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Lawmakers, Advocates Plan To Sue Kirtland Over Jet Fuel Cleanup

Hannah Colton / KUNM
Headquarters on Kirtland Air Force Base

A coalition of New Mexico lawmakers, advocates and residents say the U.S. Air Force has been too slow to respond to a decades-old jet fuel spill at Kirtland Air Force Base. It’s been 20 years since the spill was discovered and the coalition announced Friday that they plan to file a lawsuit to try to get the military to intensify cleanup efforts. 

This spring, Kirtland officials said they will have a final cleanup plan in place by 2023. But Charles de Saillan, a staff attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said promises like those aren’t enough.

"The Air Force has been dragging its feet on this for years," said de Saillan. "And part of the problem, I think, is that there is no court order, no written enforceable document that says ‘this is what the Air Force has to do and this is when it has to do it by.’"

Kirtland’s current cleanup efforts only address a portion of the pollution, and local water utility officials say they’re not confident Kirtland is being transparent about the progress. Contaminants from the spill have never showed up in Albuquerque’s drinking water.

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center will represent potential plaintiffs including the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), New Mexico Voices for Children, Sen. Mimi Stewart, Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez, Rep. G. Andrés Romero, and individual residents of southeast Albuquerque. 

The Air Force and the Department of Defense have 90 days to respond to the notice before the coalition takes legal action.

Kirtland's next public meeting about the project is scheduled for July 25, 2019 on base. 


Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, and from KUNM listeners like you.

Hannah served as news director at KUNM and reported on education, Albuquerque politics, and anything public health-related. She died in November 2020.
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