A federal court ruled today that New Mexico power company PNM must comply with a decision last fall requiring the utility to install pollution controls to significantly cut the 16,000 tons a year of harmful haze, ozone, and fine particle-producing nitrogen pollution that pours from the smokestacks each year at the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington, New Mexico.
PNM's San Juan power plant is one of the country's largest single sources of harmful air pollutants. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and PNM had petitioned the court to delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution-control requirement from taking effect while they challenge the decision in court. Today’s decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denies the Martinez-PNM delay, at the same time sending a positive signal that EPA’s decision stands on solid legal ground.
“Now it’s really time for PNM and Governor Martinez to stop standing against the health of our communities who breathe this coal plant’s pollution day in and day out,” said Sarah Jane White with the Navajo group Diné CARE. “It’s time they start standing instead where the people of New Mexico stand—on the side of energy from clean sources that create jobs and protect health, land, air and water.”
The San Juan plant sits just outside the borders of Navajo tribal land near Farmington. “As long as San Juan Generating Station is running, it needs the best pollution controls possible,” said White, “but when you look at the smartest use of precious ratepayer dollars, moving off coal to renewable energy is the answer.”
The federal court’s decision comes on the heels of a report released earlier in the week that revealed that, while PNM has been fighting EPA’s pollution control requirements, the utility has raised average residential rates 41 percent since 2008 and steered the large majority of the money into corporate profits.
"PNM is already irresponsibly funneling over a hundred million dollars of New Mexicans' hard-earned money into skyrocketing corporate profits during a tough recession,” said New Energy Economy Executive Director Mariel Nanasi. “Now Governor Martinez and the utility should immediately stop wasting more ratepayer and taxpayer money fighting clean air and public health in court, and start investing in clean energy."
For decades, nitrogen emissions from coal-burning power plants have been a major source of harmful haze in the Four Corners region, clouding the air and views in economically important national parks. Premature deaths, asthma attacks, heart attacks, chronic bronchitis, and hospital visits caused by San Juan Generating Station’s pollution cost an estimated $255 million a year, according to the Clean Air Task Force.
Nitrogen oxide reacts with other compounds to form small particles that penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs. It is also a raw ingredient in the formation of ground-level ozone, which leads to asthma attacks, respiratory problems, lung damage, and even premature death.
Western Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice represented the following groups contesting the request by PNM and Gov. Martinez to delay implementation of the pollution controls: New Energy Economy, San Juan Citizens Alliance, National Park Conservation Association, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, and Sierra Club.