The agreement announced today between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6 and New Mexico power company PNM to address air pollution from the utility’s San Juan Generating Station is a step in the right direction for improving air quality in the Four Corners region. Conservation and environmental justice groups are reviewing the agreement to ensure that it meets the requirements of the Clean Air Act.
In August of 2011, the EPA issued a rule forcing 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 Farmington, New Mexico plant’s smokestacks each year. Then last spring, a federal court denied an attempt by New Mexico and the power giant to suspend the EPA’s decision, thus requiring the utility to move forward with plans to install pollution controls that would meet the 2011 rule.
“While we are encouraged that the agreement will transition away from two units of dirty coal-burning power, until PNM and the State of New Mexico release the air quality modeling that explains the visibility and public health benefits of their alternative, we cannot assess the value of the agreement,” said Earthjustice attorney, Suma Peesapati. “Any alternative approach to EPA’s federal plan must meet the minimum requirements of the Clean Air Act.”
“For decades, San Juan Generating Station has mucked up the air in gems of the southwest like Mesa Verde and Canyonlands national parks,” said National Parks Conservation Association Clean Air Counsel Stephanie Kodish. “While far from a done deal, this initial agreement represents a positive step towards reducing the plant’s impact on people and ecosystems.”
”Closure of two units at SJGS is in line with the economic realities that coal is in decline as a way to generate electricity,” said Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “We are greatly concerned over the replacement of coal at SJGS with natural gas, when proven renewable energy, specifically solar at the SJGS site, should be the preferred replacement.”
“This announcement only confirms that the right path forward is for New Mexico to transition away from coal. However, by merely replacing it with natural gas does not take advantage of the state’s abundant renewable energy sources that would provide clean and affordable energy for New Mexicans,” said Nellis Kennedy-Howard from Sierra Club. “A new dependence on natural gas only continues to pollute New Mexico’s water and skies.”
“We look forward to getting more information on the agreement,” said Donna House of Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment.
For decades, air pollution from coal-burning power plants have been a major source of harmful haze in the Four Corners region, clouding the air and views in treasured, economically important national parks, like the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde. 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 oxides, one of the pollutants at issue in this case, react 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 are representing San Juan Citizens Alliance, National Park Conservation Association, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, and Sierra Club in the effort to ensure that San Juan Generating Station complies with the minimum clean air protections required by the Clean Air Act.