Valley Meat Co. was forced to launch another offensive against a regulatory agency Monday, this time against the New Mexico Environment Department, after the company was denied a temporary water discharge permit.
The latest hurdle comes just before the horse meat processing plant expects to open Aug. 5.
Citing unfair treatment, Valley Meat’s attorney asked the state department to explain why the horse meat processing plant’s permit was denied when other permits were granted in similar situations.
Valley Meat’s attorney, A. Blair Dunn, told the Record the denial of the state’s discharge permit will not stop the plant from opening, but will cost Valley Meat “another expense.”
The department denied issuing Valley Meat a temporary permit in part because the Water Quality Board had received more than 450 public comments concerning the company’s draft discharge permit.
The plant, which has sat idle as it waited nearly 15 months for the USDA to issue its grant of inspection, is now accused of allowing its ground-water permit to lapse.
“We have now identified dairies across the state that have a similar lapse in their permit and have [auth] been waiting for years for the NMENV to do its job. Nobody has come and shut them down,” Dunn wrote to Kevin Powers, assistant general council at the department. “Why the inequality?”
The NMENV’s Water Quality Bureau could not be reached for comment late Monday afternoon.
The Water Quality Control Commission, the board that oversees the department’s Water Quality Commission regulations, is comprised of 14 members — including one appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez and Assistant Attorney General Sean Cunniff.
The governor and AG have spoken out repeatedly against the Valley Meat opening.
AG Gary King announced Monday he had asked a federal judge to unite with animal protection activists to “stop a plant in Roswell from slaughtering horses for meat.”
King said Monday his motion raises concerns about more costly regulatory burdens for the state to “ensure that waste discharge does not threaten area water supplies and environmental quality.”
Martinez has also petitioned the USDA in the past against issuing the permit and has consistently voiced her opposition against the practice of horse slaughter in New Mexico.
Valley Meat’s immediate future awaits a federal ruling in Albuquerque on Aug. 2. A federal judge overseeing a lawsuit by animal protection groups will decide whether to halt operations for another six months to a year.
The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue and other groups and individuals filed a suit against the USDA to halt operations at the Roswell plant and a facility in Iowa, claiming the federal government did not follow proper environmental reviews before issuing grants of inspections to the facilities.
The judge should decide whether to put a temporary restraining order on the permits for six months to a year, or dismiss the suit. Other plants nationally are in line to be permitted.
Several groups and individuals have taken sides, submitting arguments in the case that pits animal welfare groups against the USDA for the Aug. 2 court hearing.
The USDA is backed by the Yakama Nation, a Northwestern American Indian confederated tribal council of some 10,000 members that represents 14 tribes and bands. The nation’s reservation is home to up to 15,000 horses that roam across its 1.4 million-acre reservation in central Washington. Private investors and Northwest tribes, including Yakama, Umatilla and Warm Springs, reportedly are interested in future horse population control options.
The government will also be supported by Valley Meat, Rains Natural Meats of Missouri and Responsible Transportation in Iowa.
The animal rights plaintiffs will now be supported by arguments given by AG King and a newly formed animal protection group formed by actor Robert Redford and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
The former governor and Redford announced Monday they will “join the fight to stop horse slaughterhouses from reopening in the United States” and have filed as a plaintiff.
“As a lifelong horse lover, I am committed to doing whatever it takes to stop the return of horse slaughterhouses in this country and, in particular, my own state,” Richardson said.
The Foundation to Protect New Mexico wildlife is apparently a natural extension of Richardson’s and Redford’s decades of animal advocacy and conservation work.
“Horse slaughter has no place in our culture,” Redford said in a release. “We must oppose it with all of our might.”