The San Juan Generating Station is a massive coal-fired power plant owned primarily by Public Service Co. of New Mexico, or PNM. The plant is located in northwestern New Mexico near the town of Waterflow, less than 15 miles from the Four Corners coal-fired plant on the Navajo Nation.
The San Juan plant, which came online in 1972, is the second-largest source of air pollution in New Mexico (right behind the Four Corners plant). Every year, its air pollution contributes to an estimated 33 premature deaths, 600 asthma attacks, 31 asthma-related emergency-room visits and other health impacts, at an estimated cost of more than $254 million. (The estimates use methodology approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.) The plants air pollution affects indigenous communities in the region, a number of national parks and monuments and regional smog levels.
On Jan. 5, 2011, the EPA published a proposal to require PNM to retrofit the San Juan Generating Station with up-to-date air-pollution controls. The plan would target emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid and ammonia, all haze-forming gases that also contribute to the plants negative health impacts. The plan was finalized in summer 2011 and challenged by PNM in the fall.
The EPA would require that PNM reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions by retrofitting the coal-fired boilers with selective catalytic reduction, an add-on control that functions much the same as a cars catalytic converter. PNM would be required to meet an approximately 80 percent reduction in current emissions. The plan also requires PNM to limit sulfur-dioxide emissions and sets limits for ammonia and sulfuric-acid mist.
PNM has been fighting the EPA proposal. It has gotten the state of New Mexico to propose a much weaker pollution-control plan and has gone to court to fight the EPA proposal. San Juan Citizens Alliance has joined the court case, supporting the EPA position.
This week, PNM announced it is moving ahead with planning for the EPA controls, by putting out a call for bids to do the work needed. It is not ending its court challenge to the EPA proposal. With this announcement, PNM is sending a mixed message as to its responsibility to invest in the old plant and the health of the communities that surround it by installing pollution controls. We hope PNM is sincere in its willingness to adequately control its pollution and that it is not merely posturing for the sake of political theater.
Regardless of the sincerity of PNMs commitment to reducing the health impacts of its power plant, the reality is that even with the EPA-mandated controls, the coal that is burned will continue to pollute our area.
The air pollution-control technologies convert dispersed air pollution into more concentrated toxic solid wastes. PNM still needs to ensure it handles its solid wastes adequately. Burning coal for power is a dirty business; hopefully PNM is committed to fully stepping up and acting as a proactive and responsible member of the San Juan Basin community.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.