CLOVIS, N.M. — The New Mexico Environment Department on Thursday assessed the U.S. Air Force a nearly $1.7 million fine for not complying with rules aimed at protecting groundwater.
The agency claims Cannon Air Force Base has released wastewater despite not having a permit since March 2019.
State officials are concerned because the base near Clovis is among dozens of military installations around the U.S. where contamination from past firefighting activities has been reported. The contamination is linked to chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
“The Air Force continues to ignore New Mexico’s environmental laws,” said James Kenney, head of the Environment Department. "Rather than address PFAS contamination, the Department of Defense shows no interest in helping afflicted communities and impacted natural resources.”
Officials at Cannon did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment about the state’s compliance order or the civil penalty.
The state in 2018 began regulating for PFAS chemicals. As part of the program, certain entities with groundwater discharge permits began monitoring for and disclosing the presence of the chemicals.
Since the base's permit expired, the state said on multiple occasions it notified the Air Force that PFAS monitoring was required. To remedy the violations, the state says the Air Force must submit an application for a new permit and pay the penalty within 30 days.
State officials say if the Air Force doesn't comply, it could face additional penalties of up to $25,000 a day.
The state currently is in a legal battle with the Air Force over PFAS contamination at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo. New Mexico sued last April, saying the military has a responsibility to clean up the toxic chemicals.
Air Force officials have said previously that they have been working with regulators to identify and implement long-term solutions to prevent exposure.