New NMED Policies Criticized
Recently, the New Mexico Environment Department devised new policies on public participation in its permitting process. But local environmental groups say the new policies were drafted without public involvement.
Last month, NMED released its Public Participation and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) policies, outlining plans to include local communities in the process for permitting industrial facilities. The three new policies cover public participation, limited English proficiency and non-employee disability. According to Yale Law School's website, the policies were drafted as part of an informal resolution agreement with the US Environmental Protection Agency. The agreement was in response to complaints filed by environmental group Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping (CARD) and others alleging NMED’s public participation process violated federal civil rights laws by failing to provide translation services for Spanish-speaking citizens. NMED signed the agreement, promising to “ensure its public involvement process is available to all persons regardless of race, color, national origin (including limited-English proficiency), age, disability and sex.” The department recently hired a full-time translation and interpretation manager.
In a public statement, however, Deborah Reade, Research Director at CARD, noted that NMED did not seek public input while drafting the new policies. CARD legal representatives allege that the new policies’ definition of “vital documents” requiring translation are vague and that a loophole in the language will allow NMED to avoid providing adequate translation services if the cost is too high. They also allege NMED has proceeded with 200 public processes since the agreement without complying to its requirements.
NMED general counsel Jennifer Hower told the Albuquerque Journal that requests from CARD to participate in drafting the new policies were denied because outside groups are barred from involvement with internal policymaking.