Southwest Colorado residents on Thursday will have a chance to speak about proposed pollution controls for the Four Corners Power Plant, a New Mexico coal-fired plant that emits into the local airshed.
The 45-year-old power plant is the largest single source of nitrogen-oxide emissions in the United States, and it has been under increased scrutiny concerning other emissions as well.
The proposed plan would cut nitrogen oxides at the Four Corners Power Plant by 87 percent under the regional haze rule, according to a February Environmental Protection Agency news release.
“Every year, over 280 million people visit our nation's most treasured parks and wilderness areas,” the release says. “Yet, many visitors aren't able to see the spectacular vistas because of the veil of white or brown haze that hangs in the air, reducing visibility and dulling the natural beauty.”
Local officials lobbied for a hearing in Durango because of the plant's impact on local air.
“Air quality is a high priority for La Plata County, and an issue that affects each and every individual living in and visiting our community,” Commissioner Wally White wrote in a letter to the EPA last month. “Even though the power plant is located in a different state, it is less than 60 miles from our population, and it significantly impacts the air quality of our region.”
The Durango EPA hearing about plant emissions is the last of four.
So far, the EPA has received public comment letters from as far as 100 miles away from the coal-fired plant describing haze and discolored snow believed to be caused by plant emissions, the agency's online files show.
Nearly 3-of-4 Arizonans polled by a public opinion research group said they would rather see the coal company invest in renewable energies such as solar, wind and hydroelectric power. Many worry the changes and related equipment upgrades would extend the life of the Four Corners Power Plant and discourage investment in alternatives, said Tim Wagner, program director for Resource Media.
Information recently released by the San Juan Citizens Alliance, meanwhile, called the proposed changes “long overdue” and said public health in the region has “suffered” from regional pollution.
The Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based nonprofit dedicated to pollution research and advocacy, estimates the Four Corners Power Plant plays a role in 44 premature deaths, 800 asthma attacks and 42 emergency room visits – all of which add up to an estimated $341 million annually.
Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy issues coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said, “This is an unprecedented opportunity to be involved in policy making that has huge implications to public health, economic opportunities and the region's transition into 21st century technologies for producing electricity.”
A previous version of this story gave incorrect figures for the number of Arizonans who prefer to see investments in alternative energy technologies. Also, Mike Eisenfeld's name has been corrected.