ROSWELL, N.M. - New Mexico's Valley Meat Co. has another obstacle in its path to becoming a horse slaughterhouse. A Larkspur, Colo., group, Front Range Equine Rescue, has notified the Roswell company and two federal agencies - the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture - of its intent to sue for violation of the Clean Water Act.
Bruce Wagman, a partner at Schiff Hardin, a law firm representing Front Range Equine Rescue, said this issue goes back at least five years."This is about the failure to obtain a permit for discharge of contaminants from storm water," he said. "It's an ongoing violation because, as far as we know, they had a Grant of Inspection for cow slaughter all those years and were in violation of the Clean Water Act every day they were doing it."
A USDA Grant of Inspection is required before meat from a slaughterhouse can be sold. Wagman said the agency doesn't necessarily look at Clean Water Act issues when it decides on this document, so it is possible to be approved for business without being in compliance.
Valley Meat's attorney, A. Blair Dunn, said the company will not be out of compliance by the end of the 60-day time period in the notice to sue. While the suit alleges that Valley Meat hasn't been in compliance with the Act, Wagman said, it is not known whether it has polluted water in the area. The waterways most likely to be affected, he said, are the Spring River Canal and the Pecos River - a place where people fish and swim.
"The Pecos River runs near Valley Meat and communicates with underground channels that go through nearby lakes and streams in New Mexico," he said.
Tracy Hughes, an environmental attorney with High Desert Energy and Environment Law Partners in Santa Fe, explained what can be found in storm water runoff. "In industrial facilities, it's anything that a company may put in their parking lot or in their yard that may be stored outside," she said. "Then the precipitation falls on it, and that becomes runoff, and it can be oil and antifreeze, anything that leaks out of your car."
Getting the necessary permit to comply with the Clean Water Act would not be a lengthy process, Hughes said. However, if Valley Meat Co. is considered a "new source" because of its lack of a previous permit, she said, there would be a public notice and 30 days for public comment.
A report on developing a New Mexico stormwater pollution plan is online at epa.gov.