Governor rips EPA over pollution at New Mexico Air Force Bases

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is accusing the Trump EPA of failing to uphold the agency’s mission of protecting public health and the environment after it refused to help the state in its lawsuit against the Air Force over major PFAS contamination at two Air Force bases according to POLITICO’s Morning Energy Report.

In a letter sent Friday, the Democrat contends that EPA’s refusal “is a demonstrative example of EPA’s failure to uphold compliance with federal environmental laws.”

EPA did not respond to a request for comment on Lujan’s letter, but General Counsel Matt Leopold and Peter Wright, head of EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, argued in a July letterthat the agency isn’t permitted to take legal action against another agency in the executive branch. They said EPA was helping the state deal with its PFAS problem in other ways, like providing fact sheets and organizing conference calls. But New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney didn’t buy that argument, saying in a separate Aug. 2 letter that EPA has previously issued compliance orders forcing federal agencies to address contamination.

The fight comes as states across the U.S. have struggled to compel the Defense Department to undertake swift cleanups in the absence of a federal Superfund listing for the chemicals — a point that 22 attorneys general, including New Mexico’s, made in a letter to congressional leaders last week as they pushed for that provision and others be included in a final legislative package.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sued the Air Force in March after groundwater sampling near the Cannon and Holleman Air Force bases found concentrations of the chemicals at more than 300 times EPA’s recommended safety limit in some places. And late last month Balderas asked a federal judge in New Mexico to issue a preliminary injunction requiring the Air Force to provide alternative water sources to affected residents, as well as blood tests, and to immediately begin delineating the groundwater plumes.

Reminder: When the White House threatened to veto the House’s 2020 defense bill, H.R. 2500 (116) , it called out a provision that would allow DoD to provide clean water to agricultural operations where supplies are contaminated with PFAS above the 70 ppt health advisory level — language sought by New Mexico’s congressional delegation after a dairy farmer near Cannon Air Force base killed all 4,000 of his cows after their milk tested for extremely high levels of the chemicals.