By Susan Martin,
Chapter Executive Committee
In August, New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn announced he was stepping down. In September, he was named New Mexico Oil and Gas Association executive director.
A recent Santa Fe New Mexican article about the Martinez administration’s favors to Helena Chemical Co. exposes just how submissive Gov. Susana Martinez and Flynn have been to polluting industries and campaign contributors. But advocates who have defended clean-water safeguards against Flynn’s dismantling efforts already knew that.
Almost any new Environment boss would be an improvement, given Flynn’s plundering of air and water protections at the behest of polluting industries.
The examples of this type of behavior from Flynn’s tenure are numerous. Most egregious was when Flynn discarded his own technical team’s draft of a rule that was supposed to protect our drinking water from copper-mining contamination.
What did he submit instead to the Water Quality Control Commission? A substitute rule containing every single change requested by copper-mining giant Freeport-McMoRan.
The original draft was developed during a months-long process that included industry representatives, technical experts, community members and environmentalists. The rule Flynn replaced it with expressly allows copper mines to contaminate groundwater — which his own staff told him would violate the Water Quality Act.
Clean-water and community groups appealed, and that case is now in front of the state Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in September.
Then there’s the time Flynn stopped enforcing the Dairy Rule, which is supposed to protect our drinking water from the millions of gallons of untreated waste produced by New Mexico dairies. All that waste was going unregulated because the dairy industry wanted to weaken the rule, and Flynn facilitated their success.
Flynn’s parting shot is an attempt to limit public participation in permitting processes.
Martinez has named longtime Environment Department employee Butch Tongate to replace Flynn. He is considerably more qualified and has greater knowledge of environmental regulations and safeguards than Flynn. But Tongate chaired the Water Quality Control Commission for the hearings that rubber-stamped that industry-written Copper Rule.
Tongate has an opportunity to at least enforce the weakened safeguards that are still in place and protect current public-input requirements.
There’s room for hope, but more room for skepticism, that our families’ water and air will be less vulnerable under the new Martinez Environment Department than under the old.
We encourage Tongate to use his experience and knowledge to “do the right thing” to protect our families’ health and New Mexico’s environment.