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NM Environment Department will follow governor’s new mandate despite staffing challenges

Clem Onojeghuo

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) will be holding a rapid hiring event next Saturday September 23, 2023 hoping to fill over 40 positions. This comes after the department has rallied for months for more money to hire staff and now has a new mandate to test wastewater at schools.

Earlier this year Environment Secretary James Kenney spoke with KUNM about the need for more money.

“If there is an environmental spill in Silver City at the same time that there is releases of pollutants to the air in Carlsbad, while Chama is running out of drinking water, we have to pick winners and losers,” he said. “That is not fair to New Mexicans.”

NMED currently has a vacancy rate near 18% and its performance review report describes headwinds recruiting and retaining staff. It also notes it would take most of the Environment Department’s programs multiple years to assure compliance with all permitted or licensed facilities.

Reporter Jerry Redfern from Capital & Main told KUNM earlier this yearthere are about 65,000 operational oil and gas wells in the state and thousands of pumping stations, tank farms and pipelines.

But he reported there were only 20 employees between the Oil Conservation Division and the Environment Department whose job it is to keep watch.

“The numbers are obviously way out of whack,” said Redfern.

And now the department has a new mandate from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in her new public health order. It calls on the Environment Department to begin wastewater testing for illegal drugs in schools. But Kenney says the department can do it by using its own employees and contractors.

They will begin the process of identifying sewer systems connected to public and private schools where they can grab samples. From there, they will send the samples to laboratories to get their results.

The questions of how often they will sample data is still unknown due to the cost of how much each sample will be.

Kenney says that he agrees with the governor’s actions.

“I think it is exactly what needs to be done where we use science to drive policy and policy to move the needle. And ultimately, what we're looking to do is protect children, protect families and break this cycle of illegal fentanyl use in our state,” he said.

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) will hold a Rapid Hire event to fill positions based in Albuquerque, Los Lunas, Rio Rancho, and Santa Fe. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, September 23, 2023, at the Harold Runnels Building (1190 St. Francis Drive, Santa Fe NM 87505).

NMED will be hiring for a range of positions including environmental scientists & specialists, geoscientists, water resources professionals as well as positions in administrative, finance, and human resources roles.

Support for this coverage comes from the Thornburg Foundation and KUNM listeners. 

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s a former Local News Fund Fellow. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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