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Groups split on meeting place

Staff writer

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New Mexico’s Sierra Club chapter has asked the Santa Fe state district court to require hearings on dairy farm water pollution rules to be held in Santa Fe.

The state’s water quality control board plans to hold the hearings in Roswell.

The lawsuit is the latest tactic in a battle between dairy farmers, who seek an easing of groundwater pollution prevention rules, and environmentalists, who want dairy farms to continue to comply with the more stringent guidelines they must meet now.

Dairy farmers say Roswell is a central location for up to 80 percent of the dairy industry. The Sierra Club, however, contends a Santa Fe meeting simply follows the law, according to Dan Lorimier, the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club’s conservation coordinator.

If the hearing were held in Santa Fe, Lorimier said, it “may be likely” that more Sierra Club members and sympathizers like Amigos Bravos, another conservation group, could participate. But complying with the law is the issue, he said.

“The board will not make a decision based on the number of people who speak during public hearings,” Lorimier said.

There are dairy farms in the state that are not in the southeast, Lorimier said, like the ones on the “dairy row” in southwest New Mexico between Las Cruces and El Paso, Texas, he said. That makes the dairy rules a state-wide issue that should be handled in Santa Fe, he said.

To the dairy farmers, though, a hearing in Santa Fe would mean abandoning their operations for several days, which is impractical, according to Beverly Idsinga, executive director of the Dairy Producers of New Mexico.

“Running a dairy farm is a 100 percent, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year job,” she said. “Dairy farmers cannot afford to take a few days out for hearings in Santa Fe.”

The New Mexico Environment Department said in a statement that it opposes the Sierra Club’s attempt to move the dairy hearing to Santa Fe.

“It is important for the members of the public who either work in (the) dairy industry or live near a dairy to be able to participate in the hearing,” said Jim Winchester, the communications director of the state’s Environment Department.

 
 
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