The skies in the mountains are amazingly blue, a deep solid color. On a good day, the clarity of the ridges against this blue is deeply rewarding. Yet all too often in our area, the clarity is diminished by haze.
Sometimes it is smoke from forest fires, usually caused by people. Or, when the wind blows hard through northern Arizona or southern Utah, we can get a lot of dust. More common is a bluer haze. If you are in northwest New Mexico, it often is of a brown color. Regional haze is part of our regular experience.
There are many causes for this haze. Some drifts in from the large cities of southern California, Arizona and Nevada. Our cars and fireplaces cause some. A lot comes from the regional energy-production industries. The two coal-fired power plants in northwest New Mexico are major producers of nitrous oxides, often forming the brown cloud in that area. The 35,000 gas wells in the region put out unknown amounts of volatile organic compounds. The gas dehydrators, which remove the water from the gas stream and the compressor stations that push the gas down the pipelines, release more.
We all pay a high cost for the energy we export. The reduction in visibility affects our tourist industry. More importantly, the pollution affects our health. While we lack adequate studies of the health impacts locally, the consequences of poor air quality are very well documented. An increase in asthma, especially among the young and elderly, is but one example.
The Four Corners is known for its air pollution. The smoke from the Four Corners Power Plant was clearly seen in the 1970s from space. Since then rudimentary pollution controls were added, reducing the plume, but the plant is still one of the nations dirtiest.
There are some efforts under way to try and improve our air quality. Both area coal plants are in some form of regulatory review by the Environmental Protection Agency. The state of New Mexico has recently jumped in to try and minimize the pollution controls at the San Juan Generating Station, actively arguing against the stronger controls being pushed by the EPA. Unfortunately, there is little being done to understand, much less reduce, the emissions from the gas industry.
The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission will be in Durango from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the DoubleTree Hotel. There will be presentations about the regional air quality and then opportunity for public comment. It is important that the regulators hear from our community. All too often, Colorados air-quality concerns are all too focused on the Front Range cities.
The beauty of a blue sky, and the clean air it implies we are breathing, is too important to ignore. Please let the Air Quality Control Commission hear from you.
[email protected] Dan Randolph is interim director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.