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EPA Objects to Air Pollution Permit for Coal Burning San Juan Generating Station
“This another victory for reining in air pollution at the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “For too long, PNM has gotten a free pass to pollute. Today’s ruling continues to expose the fact that we’re paying a tremendous toll when it comes to the impacts of this power plant on the air we breathe.”
The ruling, which was received late Thursday February 16th,comes as the main owner and operator of the San Juan Generating Station, Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, is facing pressure to either clean up the coal-fired power plant or shut it down. Last August, the EPA finalized a clean up plan for the San Juan Generating Station requiring PNM to install up-to-date emission controls for haze and smog forming emissions. Today’s ruling underscores the growing liability of the coal-fired power plant and its toll on clean air.
The San Juan Generation Station is a massive 1,848-megawatt coal-fired power plant located in northwestern New Mexico that every year releases thousands of tons of toxic air pollution from its four smokestacks. The second largest coal-fired power plant in the state, every year it releases more than 18,000 tons of smog forming nitrogen oxide gases, 51 pounds of mercury, and more than 13,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide—as much as is released by more than 2.3 million passenger vehicles.
It is estimated that the plant annually causes 33 premature deaths, 50 heart attacks, 600 asthma attacks, 21 cases of chronic bronchitis,and 31 asthma-related emergency room visits at a cost of more than $250 million (see Clean Air Task Force data).
In November of 2010, WildEarth Guardians, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Carson Forest Watch filed a petition with the Administrator of the EPA, calling on her to object to the New Mexico Environment Department’s proposal to renew the air pollution permit for the San Juan Generating Station. The petition challenged the failure of New Mexico to hold PNM accountable to installing up-to-date pollution controls at the plant, to ensuring accurate pollution monitoring, to reporting violations to the public, and to protecting ambient air quality in the region as required by the Clean Air Act.
The EPA’s ruling today largely grants the petition, holding that the New Mexico Environment Department failed to ensure the air pollution permit complied with the Clean Air Act. In particular, the Administrator found that the state failed to ensure that up-to-date emissions controls were used to limit carbon monoxide pollution at the power plant, failed to ensure adequate air pollution monitoring, failed to ensure prompt reporting of permit deviations, and inappropriately shielded the power plant from having to protect ambient air quality standards.
“PNM has to face the facts, the San Juan Generating Station is a mess that only seems to be getting worse,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico Energy Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “This ruling should be another wake up call for PNM to find more meaningful solutions to keeping our air clean and safe.”
The ruling starts a 90-day clock during which the Environment Department has to fix the flaws in the permit. Fixing the permit will require the state to ensure that the San Juan Generating Station is operated with up-to-date carbon monoxide emission controls, better air pollution monitoring,and more transparency. If the state fails to take action within 90 days, the EPA will have to take over administration of the permit.