New Mexico Environmental Law Center

Defending Environmental Justice in New Mexico Since 1987

"Every day we use the rule of law, policy development, advocacy, public education, and every single tool we can to work alongside our clients, the true Earth Protectors, in fighting to strengthen environmental rules and regulations that better protect public health, the environment, and the community’s well-being." — Dr. Virginia Necochea, Executive Director, NMELC

As the only public interest nonprofit law center in New Mexico focused on environmental justice, the client-directed work of New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) prioritizes environmental issues that disproportionately impact Indigenous, Black, Latinx, rural and low-income communities. We advocate for equitable and just environmental laws and policies that protect the health and wellbeing of all New Mexicans.

New NMELC currently has 28 open cases across the state ranging from representing clients fighting the toxic legacy of uranium mining, strengthening the air quality regulations in Bernalillo County that protect everyone’s public health, defending the civil rights of New Mexicans, stopping water grabs and protecting limited water resources to continued work fighting the mega housing development known as Santolina. Here is a snapshot of 5 of our most active environmental justice cases:

One of our cases is representing Earthcare and one of its members in a civil rights complaint against the New Mexico Environment Department stemming from discrimination she faced during an air permit hearing held in 2021.

On September 15th, 2021, our client, with the advice of NMELC, filed a civil rights complaint against the New Mexico Environment Department, alleging that NMED discriminated against Spanish speaking residents of Santa Fe’s Southside during the March 2021 Associated Asphalt and Materials air pollution permit hearing. Under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, NMED, as a recipient of federal funds, cannot discriminate against anyone on the basis of national origin, which includes limited English proficiency. NMED, at the March hearing, failed to provide adequate interpretation services for Spanish speaking members of the community—the NMED hearing officer even went so far as to call Spanish-speaking community members “these people,” and determined, despite requests for the use of an interpreter, that our client “spoke English well enough.” This complaint was filed with EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office and was accepted for investigation on November 2, 2021. NMED has agreed to participate in an informal resolution process, and conversations are ongoing.

We are committed to standing alongside community members whose right to access public hearings in their primary language or language of choice, is respected and adhered to. Access to information regarding pollution that could impact one’s health is a fundamental tenet of environmental justice.

Another case we have been working on for decades is the clean-up from uranium mining and prevention of new mining alongside our clients Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM) and Red Water Pond Road Community Association. NMELC recently accompanied Indigenous leaders from five different tribal communities to provide testimony at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing in Washington, D.C., on the “United States: Impacts from Uranium Exploration on Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights.”

The historic hearing included testimony from Edith Hood and Teracita Keyanna, Diné (Navajo) tribal members from the Red Water Pond Road Community Association (New Mexico); Carletta Tilousi of the Havasupai Tribal Government (Arizona); as well as Ute Mountain Ute tribal members from White Mesa Concerned Community (Utah); the Northern Arapaho Tribe (Wyoming); and an Oglala Dakota tribal member from Buffalo Magpie Organizing (South Dakota). Eric Jantz, Legal Director at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, also provided testimony as legal counsel.

The goal of the hearing was to bring greater attention to an often long overlooked issue: how the U.S. government has jeopardized the rights to life, health, culture, environment and water of hundreds of Indigenous communities across the country in the pursuit of a single mineral—uranium—and to recommend that the U.S. place a moratorium on all new uranium mining until clean-up of previous legacy mining has taken place, aka “no start-up til clean-up.”

Last December NMELC attorneys represented the Mountain View Coalition in a historic, potentially precedent-setting rulemaking proceeding on the proposed Health, Environment & Equity Impacts (HEEI) regulation. The rule would have required the City of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department to finally address the disproportionate air pollution burden and related health disparities impacting Albuquerque’s low-income communities and communities of color..

The Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Joint Air Quality Control Board adopted a revised version of the HEEI, though it remains unclear how protective the rule will be. While testimony from community members at the weeklong hearing was overwhelmingly in support of the HEEI regulation, industry parties opposing the rule have filed multiple appeals of the Air Board’s decision.

Our fight against a massive water grab in the San Agustín Plains of southern New Mexico resulted in a recent victory and significant water win. On Friday, April 5, Judge Roscoe Woods, of the 7th Judicial District, ruled from the bench that the New Mexico State Engineer was correct in denying Augustin Plains Ranch (APR) LLC’s application to mine and hoard tens of thousands of gallons per year of San Augustin Plains groundwater.

The judge's decision was based on the fact that the application is speculative—ruling that APR failed to demonstrate an imperative need for the groundwater exists and failed to show that APR would be able to put the water to any beneficial use—a requirement under the New Mexico State Constitution. In a standing-room-only courtroom, more than a hundred community members heard the arguments of several attorneys awaiting a ruling on APR’s request to pump 54,000 acre feet per year of groundwater from San Augustin Plains, a closed basin (meaning all water that falls in the basin stays in the basin) in southern New Mexico which will not be recharged by perennial streams.

For 17 years, many residents have been fighting against the removal of the fossil groundwater from the basin after APR filed its first application in 2007 to remove the water. Our clients are hopeful that this fight is over, but if the ruling is appealed, the fight to protect New Mexico’s precious groundwater from speculation will continue.

NMELC is excited to announce that we have taken on a new environmental justice case focused on working alongside clients and community members in Santa Teresa and Sunland Park, near Las Cruces, in their battle for clean and safe drinking water in their neighborhoods.

Residents have shared concerns about smelly, slimy, discolored water as well as health concerns including skin rashes, nausea and vomiting. We are working with community members in supporting their fight for clean, safe drinking water for their families in the Santa Teresa and Sunland Park neighborhoods in Dona Aña County.

Our small but mighty team of attorneys and staff are dedicated individuals committed to working alongside our clients and communities in advancing environmental justice. We are proud to provide free legal representation to clients who need it most and who are the unsung and often unrecognized environmental heroes of our state.

You may learn more about NMELC by watching this short video as well as checking out our website and/or signing up for our twice a month eblasts. You can also follow us on social media on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter/X.

NMELC staff photo March 2024
NMELC, clients and other Indigenous leaders at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing in Washington, D.C., February 2024
Providing testimony at the IACHR hearing
NMELC and clients at the Health, Environment & Equity Impacts Regulation Hearing in December 2023
NMELC in front of the Air Quality Control Board during the HEEI hearing
NMELC attorney Ann McCartney with one of our clients after the Augustin Plains Ranch court ruling in April 2024
NMELC attorney Kacey Hovden meets with community members in Santa Teresa regarding water quality issues


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