Home » Articles » Volume 39 » Issue 2 » The Rhino in the Colonia: How Colonias Development Council v. Rhino Environmental Services, Inc. Set a Substantive State Standard for Environmental Justice

 
 

The Rhino in the Colonia: How Colonias Development Council v. Rhino Environmental Services, Inc. Set a Substantive State Standard for Environmental Justice

 

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Abstract

In 2005, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued a groundbreaking decision in Colonias Development Council v. Rhino Environmental Services, Inc., (Rhino) holding that the New Mexico Environment Department had to consider environmental justice factors—such as the socioeconomic status of the population, the cumulative environmental impacts borne by the community, and the social impact of living in an area surrounded by waste sites—during solid waste facility permitting decisions. The court’s holding was based primarily on the public participation requirements of the state statute. The decision went further than previous environmental justice jurisprudence by establishing a substantive, rather than merely procedural, standard for environmental justice: if the cumulative effects of a proposed waste site, in the context of the existing hazardous sites and the socioeconomic status of the community, will constitute a hazard to health or a public nuisance, then the agency may not grant the permit, even if all the technical requirements are satisfied.

This Article explores the history and ramifications of the Rhino decision and analyzes the Solid Waste Act regulations developed in response to the decision. Both the decision and the revised regulations provide guidance to other states grappling with how to incorporate environmental justice considerations into their own environmental laws. 

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