Media Advisory: Public Demands Reduction of Poisonous Smog in Northwestern New Mexico

February 16, 2011

Media Advisory for February 17, 2011
Contact: Mariel Nanasi 505-469-4060

Public Demands Reduction of Poisonous Smog in Northwestern New Mexico
60 Year-Old Coal-Fired Power Plant is Among Dirtiest in Nation

(photo: Smog in Shiprock, New Mexico – credit: Jane Partiger/EcoFlight)

Farmington, NM – Members of the public demand sharp reductions in poisonous smog and other pollutants that are on the increase in northwestern New Mexico. Testimony at an EPA hearing February 17th focuses on harmful pollution coming from the San Juan Generating Station, a 60 year-old coal-fired power plant owned by utility PNM that ranks among the dirtiest in the nation.

While many parts of America have seen significant reductions in smog over recent year, levels of harmful air pollution, including ground ozone (smog), are continuing to rise in northwestern New Mexico and threaten the health, environment and economy of the region. In addition to the San Juan Generating Station, the nearby Four Corners Power Plant, partially owned by PNM, is the nation’ s single largest source of nitrous oxides (NOX) air pollution. Smog from these plants can now be seen in Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, including the Grand Canyon more than 250 miles away.

“If I tried to register and drive a 60 year-old car it would fail the emissions inspection and I would have to get a newer car. Yet, PNM continues operating these outdated power plants well past their technical and economic life spans,” states Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of New Energy Economy, “and then PNM passes on the inflated costs and fines for operating these pollution machines in the form of runaway rate hikes for New Mexico’s families and businesses.”

Additional testimony describes significant adverse health impacts attributable to the intensifying air pollution from the power plants. These impacts include soaring rates of asthma, rising costs associated from increased emergency room visits and increased mortality rates, particularly for individuals with respiratory and heart disease.

High levels of mercury pollution from the plants are also identified as responsible for widespread surface water pollution and fish consumption advisories on the Navajo Nation across four states. The San Juan Generating station alone consumes and fouls an astounding 9.3 billion gallons of fresh water per year.

In addition to these tremendous, adverse environmental and health impacts, testimony highlights how PNM’s continued operation of these outdated coal-fired plants constrains economic growth and creates an unstable business climate in New Mexico. PNM is in the process of completing a 40 percent rate hike for residential and commercial electricity customers in New Mexico over the past two years. Much of this rate increase is required to purchase mandatory pollution control technology and pay off fines for air pollution violations. These increases in electricity rates and in the volatility of electricity rates make it very difficult for businesses to anticipate operating costs and for families to plan household budgets.

A recent economic analysis indicates that increasing energy efficiency, sharply curtailing coal-fired power generation, increasing natural gas-fired power generation and increasing power generation from renewable sources would create more than 17,500 new jobs in New Mexico’s electricity sector alone by 2020. This scenario would also decrease the cost and the cost volatility of electricity for residential and commercial users.