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‘Bad actor’ pollution bill fails in House

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By Susan M. Bryan

SANTA FE — An effort by the Richardson administration to crack down on polluters with a track record of air quality violations was narrowly defeated Wednesday in the House.

The measure would have added a so-called “bad actor” clause to the state Air Quality Control Act. State laws that govern water, solid wastes and hazardous materials already include such a clause.

The legislation would have given the New Mexico Environment Department the authority to deny new air permits or revoke existing ones if a permit holder or applicant met certain conditions, including having a felony conviction related to an environmental crime.s

The state also could deny a permit if a business knowingly misrepresented a material fact in its application or refused to disclose information required under the air quality act.

Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, the bill’s sponsor, said the majority of businesses with air permits in New Mexico would not be affected by the legislation because they abide by state and federal air quality laws.

However, he said New Mexico has at least a half-dozen bad actors.

“Let’s be honest, there are companies operating in the state of New Mexico that shouldn’t be,” he said. “There are companies in the state of New Mexico that have been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars repeatedly for poisoning our air and for poisoning our water and for putting particulate matter into the air that is breathed in by the lungs of our children. We’ve got to stop it.”

Opponents questioned why the bill was not reviewed by House judicial and energy committees before being presented to the full House since it could have significant legal implications and impact on coal-fired power plants and other energy developers.

Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad, said the measure would send a message to business and industry that New Mexico was an unfriendly place.

The measure was defeated 33-32.

In addition to the bad actor clause, the legislation would have required some permit applicants to file a disclosure statement. The disclosure provision would have exempted federal, state and local government applicants as well as corporations registered with the Securities Exchange Commission.