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Groups call on New Mexico governor to pause oil and gas pollution permits to protect clean air
In a letter to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, the groups applauded the state’s efforts to rein in smog-forming air pollution from the oil and gas industry. However, the groups urged the governor to ensure communities and health do not suffer in the meantime by pausing the approval of more pollution permits.
In their letter, the groups stated:
“[W]e write to request that, in the interest of public health, environmental justice, and safety, you direct your administration to pause the approval of new air pollution permits that would increase or otherwise contribute to New Mexico’s serious ozone problem. “
The groups joining the letter include Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Citizens Caring for the Future, Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, Rio Arriba Concerned Citizens, Southwest Native Cultures, Center for Civic Policy, and others.
The letter comes as levels of ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog, have risen to dangerously high levels in northwestern and southeastern New Mexico, where oil and gas extraction activities are concentrated.
Ground-level ozone is a poisonous gas that forms when pollution from smokestacks, tailpipes, and oil and gas production reacts with sunlight. It can trigger asthma attacks, worsen lung disease, cause respiratory tract scarring, and even lead to premature death.
To protect public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires ozone concentrations in the air be limited to no more than 0.070 parts per million over an eight-hour period. Whenever ozone concentrations exceed this standard, there is cause for health concerns.
So far in 2021, ozone levels have exceeded federal health standards over 40 times in New Mexico. Because of the state’s ongoing ozone pollution problem, the New Mexico Environment Department has proposed rules to curb pollution from the oil and gas sector.
However, even as the Department has proposed new rules, the agency continues to approve permits allowing companies to increase ozone forming emissions. Currently the agency is weighing the approval of dozens of new permits that would allow increased pollution from the oil and gas industry.
In their letter, the groups cautioned:
“It makes no sense for the Environment Department to continue to permit new sources of ozone forming pollution while recognizing the need to curtail emissions from the oil and gas industry. Accordingly, we call on you to direct the Department to pause the approval of pending permits, including general permit registrations, pending the adoption of new rules to control ozone forming emissions.”
The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board has scheduled a hearing in late September to consider adopting new rules to better control oil and gas industry emissions. In the meantime, the groups stated in their letter, “New Mexico clearly needs relief from this dangerous air pollution while new rules are under consideration to control emissions.”