"You've literally got smokestack industries across the street or next door to somebody's home," George Schroeder told JEH. "We have industrial property next to and across the street from things like schools and community centers."
Schroeder is environmental health manager for Bernalillo County, New Mexico. The area of the county he was describing, called Mountain View, contains a variety of industries, among them asphalt batching, concrete batching, concrete recycling, auto salvage yards, metal recycling, bulk fuel storage, and Albuquerque Liquid Waste, a wastewater treatment plant. And, according to Kitty Richards, who serves as a program manager in Schroeder's office, new permit requests keep coming, primarily for "portable sources"--that is, for the storage and batching of building materials that are being used for projects in other parts of the county. The impacts include noise, dust, air emissions, chemical spills, and safety issues associated with heavy truck traffic (see photos on page 61 and 62).
The residents being exposed to these impacts tend to be of low socioeconomic status. Schroeder told JEH that locally, the situation is very much seen as an environmental-justice issue. It's also a complex political problem, rooted in land use decisions that date back to the middle of the last century.
"Land use planners in Bernalillo County are aware of the problem in Mountain View," he said: "how bad decisions that were made 30, 40, 50 years ago are presenting problems today." The bad land use decisions, he added, were a function of the political landscape of the time--"who was in power, what their ties to industry and real estate were, and who was able to get what sorts of development approved."
The Organizational Context
Now, it just so happens that the Bernalillo County Environmental Health Department recently became part of the department that addresses land use in the county. The merger took place after the sitting environmental health director retired; to save money, the county eliminated the position. Environmental health was brought under …