By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
Going ahead with the proposed site for an ethanol plant near Clovis could violate a state mandate protecting the rights of low-income and minority residents, according to a pair of concerned citizens.
Locating the jointly owned ConAgra Trade Group ethanol plant on U.S. 60/84 would unfairly jeopardize the property value and the health of low-income and minority residents who live near the proposed site, residents Frank Dottle and Blake Prather said.
That goes against the Environmental Justice Executive Order signed by Gov. Bill Richardson in 2005, they allege.
The order commits the state of New Mexico to giving all residents fair treatment and meaningful involvement in the development of environmental laws, regulations and policies. It also admits many environmental justice issues in New Mexico “could be mitigated by better siting decisions and processes.”
“If they were asking to put this plant in Colonial Park, you bet it wouldn’t happen,” said Prather, who lives about a mile and half from the proposed site and originated a petition against the site that he says has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
“The people who are pushing for (the plant) don’t have to live next to it. Their children don’t have to go to school in that district either,” Prather said.
“It’s poor minority families that will be hurt the worst, and they don’t have the resources to stop this thing,” he said.
The proposed site is less than three-tenths of a mile from Clovis city limits and near clusters of mostly mobile and trailer homes. The neighborhoods nearest to the plant are predominantly comprised of minorities.
Marissa Stone, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Environment Department, said the environmental justice order has not been violated, as the process for permitting the plant, and giving the go ahead for its location, pending.
The State Environmental Department has scheduled a public hearing concerning the ConAgra air permit for the first week of November at Clovis Community College, Stone said. A specific date for the hearing has not been set, she said.
“The environment department takes environmental justice and the concerns of minority and low-income communities seriously,” Stone said.
ConAgra spokeswoman Melissa Baron said her company is aware of the environmental justice order and intends to follow all state and federal regulations imposed upon the plant.
The proposed highway site for the ethanol plant is the only site ConAgra officials and their partners considered for the ethanol plant, according to Baron.
Baron said ConAgra officials and their partners chose that site for three reasons: Existing infrastructure, the corresponding ease of distribution and the agricultural community in Clovis.
The existing Peavey Grain elevator located on the proposed site — which has been operated by ConAgra for 17 years, according to Baron — will allow easy storage of corn needed for ethanol production. In addition, the nearby railway will allow the plant to receive corn for ethanol production and deliver ethanol products easily to New Mexico, Fort Worth, Texas, and southern California. Furthermore, byproducts of ethanol production can be sold to local ranchers for use as feed in the region, Baron said.
“It would be extremely difficult to operate somewhere else because we have this existing infrastructure,” Baron said.
She added, “We’ve been a good neighbor in Clovis for 17 years. Our intent is to continue to be a good neighbor. We are working specifically right now to ensure we are in adherence with Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.
“Those guidelines exist to protect the community and protect public health,” she said.
The petition against the proposed site, which can be found at local stores, was launched approximately 11 days ago and should remain in circulation for at least another 10 days, Prather said. Fellow residents and church leaders are also circulating the petition, Prather said.
One of those residents is Frank Dottle.
Dottle lives in a development of mostly trailer homes across the street from the proposed plant site. Dottle estimates he alone has collected more than 500 signatures for the petition.
“It’s environmental injustice,” said Dottle, referring to the executive order, “to put that (the plant) here in the poorer section of town.”
Among pollutants the plant will emit annually are 92 tons of carbon monoxide and 60 tons of particulate matter, according to the plant’s air quality permit application. Plant officials have said pollutants emitted would not exceed levels set for human safety by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Dottle and Prather have said they are not against an ethanol plant in Clovis. They are against the proposed site, which they believe is dangerously close to residential areas.
“We got thousands of acres,” Prather said. “They can select another site.”
According to ConAgra officials, 55 new jobs will be generated at the facility, and an additional 50-75 indirect jobs would be generated in service of the plant.