New Mexico Environment Department fines US Air Force; Cannon AFB, state leaders respond

I-Team

CLOVIS, N.M. (KAMR/KCIT) — The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has fined the US Air Force nearly $1.7 million for ongoing violations of state law which protects groundwater resources.

NMED said the Air Force has failed to comply with the agency’s rules to protect groundwater from perfluorinated chemicals like PFAS. According to the agency, Cannon Air Force Base has unlawfully discharged wastewater without a groundwater permit, which expired last March.

Rebecca Roose, the water protection division director for the NMED, said this remains one of the agency’s top priorities and they hope to resolve it.

“We’ve been asking them now repeatedly since last march of 2019 to get us the necessary information to develop a permit an issue a permit that addresses known contaminants at the facility,” Roose said. “The fact that that hasn’t happened is is very concerning to us because it seems to be counter to what our expectation is that they would be doing everything they can to protect their the community on base and in the vicinity of the base from any contamination.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office sent us this statement:

“It was the governor’s administration that issued the fine, so naturally she supports the action and hopes that it will encourage the Air Force to cease its environmentally harmful actions that are in defiance of New Mexico state law.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, said:

“Too many families, business owners, farmers, servicemembers and communities have already suffered from exposure to these hazardous chemicals in New Mexico and across the country. By failing to take prompt action to clean-up the contamination at Cannon Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force leadership has continued to threaten New Mexico’s drinking water and way of life. We passed strong legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act in December to give the Department of Defense and the Air Force the tools they need to tackle this problem. They need to use those tools quickly and comply with New Mexico’s environmental laws to ensure further damage does not occur.”

The Chief of Media Operations at Cannon AFB also sent a statement. It reads:

“Cannon AFB is aware of the state’s compliance order with regard to our discharge permit and are working with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center and the Air Force Legal Operations Agency to properly address their concerns.”

The NMED said the base must apply for a new permit and pay the fine within 30 days. After that, they could face additional fines.

The NMED and the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General have ongoing lawsuits against the Air Force regarding existing PFAS contamination at Cannon and Holloman AFBs.

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