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EPA Decision Will Have Implications for New Mexico Air Quality

June 11, 2012

WATERFLOW, N.M. - Gov. Susana Martinez and two members of the Public Regulation Commission have requested that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hold off deciding between two pollution-control plans that would affect the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station. They're hoping a 90-day stay would provide time to negotiate other clean-up options.

Nellis Kennedy-Howard with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign says the plant's emissions are unhealthy, but she's not opposed to a stay, saying it could open the door to a better alternative, such as setting dates to retire PNM's four coal-fired boilers at the generating station.

"It's something that is happening all across the country, where coal plants have decided to shut down their units in a transitional manner while replacing them with energy-efficiency programs and also with renewable energy."

One proposal by two PRC Commissioners is to retire at least one unit of the San Juan plant and replace it with a combination of renewable energy and natural gas.

Kennedy-Howard says NOX is another reason to retire the boilers at the San Juan plant.

"NOX - nitrogen oxide - is a pollutant that the American Lung Association has dubbed one of the most widespread and dangerous. San Juan Generating Station emits more than 18,000 tons of that every year."

Public Regulation Commissioner Doug Howe (Dist. 3) warns that the costs for both plans (EPA and PNM-backed) are prohibitive and would not be paid off for 70 years.

"It would be like saying we're going to be driving a 1973 Ford Fairlane, getting eight miles to the gallon, and we're going to continue to drive that well after it's 100 years old. We just can't see that being a logical, economical or environmental decision for the state of New Mexico."

PNM, which operates the plant, has indicated a willingness to meet with the other stakeholders and interested parties, but acknowledges that without an EPA stay, the company's time is better spent working on compliance issues it is currently facing.

Renee Blake/Beth Blakeman, Public News Service - NM