Tag Archives: Asthma

10/25/2011 Durango Herald: EPA chief keeps up the pressure – Jackson touts approach to replace coal with natural-gas generators

10/25/2011 Durango Herald: EPA chief keeps up the pressure – Jackson touts approach to replace coal with natural-gas generators By Joe Hanel Herald Staff Writer: DENVER – Regulators will continue to push for cleanups at coal power plants in the Four Corners despite a rough economy, the Obama administration’s top environmental official said Monday. Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, visited Denver to tout the state’s approach to retiring coal plants and replacing them with natural gas-powered generators. Jackson’s agency in 2009 blocked a permit for the proposed Desert Rock coal power plant in Northwest New Mexico, and it is requiring better pollution-control equipment on existing power plants.

“The problem with many plants that we’re facing today is that they have not in good economic times invested in pollution control technologies. And now they are sort of gasping on the very end of life support to keep running. But the people who are paying the price are these children and our elderly people who have respiratory diseases,” Jackson said when asked about the New Mexico plants.

Jackson noted that President Barack Obama has pledged that his administration will not reduce environmental rules because the economy is dragging.

The EPA will finalize by Dec. 16 a rule limiting mercury pollution from power plants, Jackson said.

Jackson was in town to participate in a panel discussion on Colorado’s “Clean Air Clean Jobs” Act, a 2010 bill that calls for replacing Denver-area coal plants with natural-gas plants.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, was one of the act’s prime sponsors, along with former Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, who Roberts beat in the 2010 election.

Former Gov. Bill Ritter, the law’s biggest champion, moderated the discussion in front of a friendly crowd at National Jewish Health, a respiratory hospital.

The act brought together a new coalition of natural-gas companies and environmentalists, but it caused divisions in traditional alliances. Local environmentalists opposed expanded gas drilling, and Republicans split between a faction supporting coal companies and one backing gas drillers.

Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the political splinters posed a challenge.

“Another challenge was the aggression and persistence of the opposition, and that continues to this day. We have been surprised at the continuous spread of misinformation about the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act and also about the natural-gas industry,” Schuller said.

Jackson applauded the act and said the same kind of alliance could be forged on a national level.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

10/26/2011 Environmental Groups Support Haze Reduction

10/26/2011 Indian Country Today: Environmental Groups Support Haze Reduction By Carol Berry: The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has approved a motion by several environmental groups to intervene in a lawsuit involving mandated pollution controls at the 2,040-megawatt San Juan Generating Station. The New Mexico plant is believed to be the first facility required to adhere to a regional haze program, according to an environmental spokesman. The 1999 regional haze program under the Clean Air Act is designed to protect areas of “great scenic importance”—certain national parks, wilderness areas, national memorials and international parks—from manmade air pollution.

“Visibility impairment by air pollution occurs virtually all the time at most national park and wilderness area monitoring stations,” according to the Federal Register, which also notes that the visibility problem “is caused primarily by emission into the atmosphere of (sulfur dioxide), oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter, especially fine particulate matter, from inadequately controlled sources.”

“Under the Clean Air Act, the idea was that older, antiquated, coal plants were going to be decommissioned,” but that did not happen at the station, said Mike Eisenfeld, energy coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. Instead, PNM, New Mexico’s largest electricity provider, filed for an extension of the station’s present lifespan until 2053, he added.

Besides the Alliance, groups seeking to intervene include Dine’ Citizens against Ruining Our Environment (Dine’ CARE), Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association and New Energy Economy.

Sixteen National Parks or other protected historic and scenic areas are within the area affected by haze from the station and other area power plants, with particular concern for air quality at Mesa Verde National Park, only 35 or 40 miles to the north, Eisenfeld said.

Some concerns of area residents center on health effects as well as haze reduction in National Parks and other areas.

“The Navajo people living in the area of San Juan County and the Four Corners area are deeply impacted by the pollution, the haze—we’ve lived there on our ancestral lands forever, and we’ll always be there, said Anna M. Frazier, a spokesperson for Dine’ CARE. “But pollution has a great impact on our health and has a terrible impact on the vegetation—the herbs for healing,” she said, explaining that people now have to go to the mountains to gather plants that once were closer at hand.

“There used to be concern only for older people being affected, but now younger people and children have asthma and hospital records show that,” she said of the station, which is operated by the New Mexico Environment Department to meet EPA mandates, whose antipollution plan for the station is the issue in litigation.

Aesthetic and health concerns aside, PNM “is trying to portray it (upgrade cost) as unfair, like Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Generating Station and other 50-year-old facility costs to upgrade, which they’re saying is $1 billion. They say they should be able to have a less-effective technical ‘fix,’” Eisenfeld said, “and we’re saying that’s not good enough.”

Although catalytic emission controls on the station are estimated to cost $750 million to $1 billion, controls already installed remove some of the pollutants before they are released from the stack, according to EPA, so that costs would be reduced.

The station, which “continues to be one of the highest emitters of nitrous oxide” is one of the “huge, polluting facilities (that) deter economic development,” Eisenfeld said.

Although the station employs some 400 workers, he said he believes that if it completed the emission control fix, “it would create more jobs.”

Eisenfeld said the increase in employment would be from workers hired to clean up the plant and to install the system that would cut pollution through selective catalytic reduction. He didn’t have estimates for the increase in workers.

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2011/10/environmental-groups-support-haze-reduction/

10/14/2011 Let's Unplug Dirty, Old Coal Plants – Political weakness keeps them polluting 30+ years too long

10/14/2011 EarthJustice Blog: Let’s Unplug Dirty, Old Coal Plants – Political weakness keeps them polluting 30+ years too long: Across the nation, old coal-fired power plants are gasping for their last breath, having survived long past their prime because of political favors and weak government regulations. They would have died decades ago if not for a fateful policy compromise in the late 1970s that exempted existing power plants from new air quality standards in the Clean Air Act.

The compromise was based on a prediction that the plants would be retired soon, but instead it gave them a whole new lease on life, with a free pass to pollute for another 30 plus years. And until recently, there was no end in sight.

These plants continue to cough up toxic pollutants like mercury, lead and arsenic into the air. They are by far the biggest producers of the power sector’s pollution, forcing millions of Americans to seek their own life support – in the form of respirators and inhalers – just to get through each day without an asthma attack.

Earthjustice litigation is taking steps to close the loopholes and retire dozens of the old plants, while cleaning up those that continue to operate. We are employing a multi-prong strategy to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen pollution standards based on the best available science and technology.

National environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts are meant to be updated regularly to reflect the current science. Thanks to our litigation, the EPA has recently begun to deliver on the promise of our nation’s environmental laws by taking long overdue action on limiting mercury from coal, cleaning up the air in our national parks that is obscured by power plant haze, and setting national standards on water pollution. In addition, the EPA is currently on the hook for enforcing greenhouse gas emission standards, updating national standards for smog and soot.

Our goal is to end what amounts to government subsidizing of the coal power industry, and to invigorate the clean energy economy. That’s good for the climate, for our health—and for jobs. Early this year, a report by Ceres showed that the EPA’s two new air quality rules would create nearly 1.5 million jobs over the next five years because of pollution control equipment and jobs from clean energy development.

As EPA does its job and these new regulations are adopted, dirty coal plants are being forced to decide whether to pay the price of significant pollution upgrades – or shut down and replace that power with cleaner choices.

Of course, coal plant owners and their allies don’t want to have to make that choice. Even now, instead of focusing on ways to fix the economy, the coal industry is waging an all-out defensive attack on environmental protections that are good for the nation but threaten their industry’s bottom line.

Some coal plant operators have seen the writing on the wall. Since many plants are already past their prime, some are choosing to retire—a hard decision made all the easier by our litigation. For example, this spring the owner of the Trans Alta coal plant, Washington state’s largest source single source of air pollution, agreed to shut down the plant by 2025 after coming to the realization that installing the air pollution controls necessary to comply with air and water pollution standards was not a profitable venture. Currently we’re also stepping up efforts to shut down dirty, outdated coal plants in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Montana, Nevada, Texas, Tennessee, and the Midwest.

We’re also working to encourage clean energy alternatives. Our clean energy program includes preventing construction of transmission lines that favor coal over renewable energy sources and encouraging smart grid developments that rely on clean energy sources like wind and solar, strengthening efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, and pushing full implementation of state-level climate and renewable energy policies.

The nation is at an energy crossroads. One path cuts old ties and moves on to a clean energy future powered by a mix of next generation power sources. The other path prolongs our dependence on an energy source that is cooking the planet and making us sick. The choice is clear. Thank you for joining with us as we help build the clean energy path.

10/11/2011 The New York Times: Groups Sue After E.P.A. Fails to Shift Ozone Rules

10/11/2011 The New York Times: Groups Sue After E.P.A. Fails to Shift Ozone Rules WASHINGTON — Five health and environmental groups sued the Obama administration on Tuesday over its rejection of a proposed stricter new standard for ozone pollution, saying the decision was driven by politics and ignored public health concerns.  The groups said that President Obama’s refusal to adopt the new standard was illegal and left in place an inadequate air quality rule from the Bush administration. Near the end of his presidency, George W. Bush overruled the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisory panel and set the permissible ozone exposure at 75 parts per billion.

The current E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wanted to set the standard at 70 parts per billion, near the maximum level recommended by the advisory panel. But President Obama rejected that proposal on Sept. 2, saying that compliance would be too costly and create too much regulatory uncertainty for industry. He ordered the E.P.A. to conduct further scientific studies and come up with a new proposal in 2013.

The decision infuriated environmental groups, who called it a betrayal, but cheered business leaders, who said that the ozone rule was one of the most onerous of the administration’s proposed environmental regulations.

The E.P.A. said last month that it would adopt the Bush-era standard and work toward tightening it in the future. The five groups that sued — Earthjustice, the American Lung Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Environmental Defense Fund — said that was not adequate and asked a federal court in Washington to review the administration’s action.

“The rejection of stronger standards was illegal and irresponsible, in our view,” said David Baron, a lawyer for Earthjustice. “Instead of protecting people’s lungs as the law requires, this administration based its decision on politics, leaving tens of thousands of Americans at risk of sickness and suffering.”

The same groups had sued the Bush administration over its ozone policy, but agreed to suspend the suit when the Obama administration came to office and promised to reconsider the Bush standard. That reconsideration was delayed several times before finally being killed by the president last month.

Ground-level ozone is the main ingredient in smog, which is linked to premature deaths, heart attacks and lung ailments, including childhood asthma.

The standard rejected by Mr. Obama would have thrown hundreds of counties out of compliance with air quality regulations and imposed costs of $19 billion to $25 billion, according to E.P.A. estimates. But the resulting health benefits would have been $13 billion to $37 billion, the agency calculated.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/12/science/earth/12epa.html?_r=1&hpw

Mike Eisenfeld
New Mexico Energy Coordinator
San Juan Citizens Alliance
108 North Behrend, Suite I
Farmington, New Mexico 87401

9/22/2011 US EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Testimony Before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

9/22/2011 US EPA: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: EPA Press Office, press@epa.gov, 202-564-6794: Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Testimony Before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: As prepared for delivery: Chairman Stearns, Ranking Member DeGette and Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to testify on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory process. It is a priority of the EPA and of this Administration, to ensure that our regulatory system is guided by science and that it protects human health and the environment in a pragmatic and cost effective manner.

One means by which this Administration has made this priority clear is through Executive Order 13563, which includes a directive for federal agencies to develop a regulatory retrospective plan for periodic review of existing significant regulations. Under that directive, EPA has developed a plan which includes 35 priority regulatory reviews. Recent reforms, already finalized or formally proposed, are estimated to save up to $1.5 billion over the next 5 years.

But let me be clear: the core mission of the EPA is protection of public health and the environment. That mission was established in recognition of a fundamental fact of American life – regulations can and do improve the lives of people. We need these rules to hold polluters accountable and keep us safe. For more than 40 years, the Agency has carried out its mission and established a proven track record that a healthy environment and economic growth are not mutually exclusive.

The Clean Air Act is one of the most successful environmental laws in American history and provides an illustrative example of this point.

For 40 years, the nation’s Clean Air Act has made steady progress in reducing the threats posed by pollution and allowing us to breathe easier. In the last year alone, programs implemented pursuant to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 are estimated to have saved over 160,000 lives; spared Americans more than 100,000 hospital visits; and prevented millions of cases of respiratory problems, including bronchitis and asthma.

Few of the regulations that gave us these huge gains in public health were uncontroversial at the time they were developed. Most major rules have been adopted amidst claims that they would be bad for the economy and bad for employment.

In contrast to doomsday predictions, history has shown, again and again, that we can clean up pollution, create jobs, and grow our economy all at the same time. Over the same 40 years since the Clean Air Act was passed, the Gross Domestic Product of the United States grew by more than 200 percent.

Some would have us believe that “job killing” describes EPA’s regulations. It is misleading to say that enforcement of our nation’s environmental laws is bad for the economy and employment. It isn’t.

Families should never have to choose between a job and a healthy environment. They are entitled to both.

We must regulate sensibly – in a manner that does not create undue burdens and that carefully considers both the benefits and the costs. However, in doing so, we must not lose sight of the reasons for implementation of environmental regulations: These regulations are necessary to ensure that Americans have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. Americans are no less entitled to a safe, clean environment during difficult economic times than they are in a more prosperous economy.

As President Obama recently stated in his Joint Address to Congress, “…what we can’t do…is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades…We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom where we try to offer the…worst pollution standards.”

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I look forward to your questions.

9/16/2011 Navajo Generating Station blamed for haze over Grand Canyon, respiratory illnesses But Native American activists say new study ignores health impacts

9/16/2011 Colorado Independent: Navajo Generating Station blamed for haze over Grand Canyon, respiratory illnesses But Native American activists say new study ignores health impacts: By David O. Williams: Residents of the Navajo and Hopi reservations in the Four Corners region are dismayed that a study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) on the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station near Page, Ariz., “clearly omits consideration of the coal-burning plant’s pollution impacts on public health.” During public meetings in Phoenix the last two days, activist groups have been rallying support for looming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clean-air regulations that would compel the plant to install the best retrofit technology available to scrub nitrogen oxide emissions from its smokestack. Besides respiratory problems for area residents, critics blame the 42-year-old power plant for haze over Grand Canyon National Park.

Last month the EPA ordered major pollution controls within five years at San Juan Generating Station 15 miles west of Farmington, N.M., ordering the facility to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent. Colorado lawmakers were seeking to avoid similar federal regulations when they approved the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act that requires the conversion of aging coal-fired power plants on the Front Range to natural gas or renewable energy.

Conservation groups say the Department of Interior — whose Bureau of Reclamation owns the largest chunk of the Navajo power plant – is pressuring EPA to delay its ruling until the Golden, Colo.-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) can complete the first phase of an overall study on operations at the Navajo Generating Station. The plant, collectively owned by the Salt River Project, provides electricity in Arizona, Nevada and California and also supplies power to pump water through the Central Arizona Project.

“The pollution, health, and water impacts of Navajo Generating Station are huge costs — human and financial and environmental,” said Nikke Alex, a member of the Navajo Nation. “The fact that they’re ignored in the Department of Interior’s study is glaring and should be alarming for everyone in our region. Since the Department of Interior owns so much of this plant, there’s concern they may be using their influence to avoid an accounting of the true costs of keeping it running.”

As many as 18,000 homes on the Navajo Nation are completely off the grid despite the presence of nearby coal-fired power plants, which local health officials blame for a wide range of respiratory problems. But Republican lawmakers from Arizona have been actively trying to thwart the EPA push for cleaner air in the region, holding hearings and targeting various congressional committees.

U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar and Trent Franks sent a letter to the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power and the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs arguing the EPA regulations could cost jobs and endanger the state’s power and water supply. They blasted what they deemed “burdensome regulations that threaten the viability of the plant.”

“The plant and associated mine provides nearly 1,000 jobs in northern Arizona, is critical to the livelihood of the Pinal County and Native American agricultural community, and is essential to supplying water to 80 percent of the state’s population,” Gosar said. “We must carefully examine regulations that could threaten the state of Arizona’s water and power supply.”

Navajo and Hopi activists counter that they’ve suffered greatly from increased asthma and other respiratory problems traced to the plant. They also pointed to a study by the American Lung Association that found the Phoenix metro area is “one of the 25 worst of 277 U.S. metro areas for ozone pollution and is the second worst area in the nation for year-round exposure to fine particle pollution.”

Still, Navajo plant operators have reportedly indicated they might have to shutter the facility if the EPA requires the retrofits, which critics claim could unnecessarily cost more than $1 billion.

COMMENTS:

Poisoning people and the environment including the waters and the fish that swim there is not a fair trade off for a thousand jobs and cheap electricity.

I remember coming over Wolf Creek pass one evening some 30-35 years ago marveling at the spectacular technicolor sunset, only to be dismayed by my companions explanation that the colors were due to the refraction of light through the same pollution as the nightly smog in Denver,Phoenix,L.A.etc.The source of that was the Page plant which incidentally was readily identifiable from space by Apollo astronauts because it was so immense and isolated.

The notion that this plant will close before adapting to more stringent EPA regulations is ludicrous-just more of the corporate right’s scare tactics designed to intimidate low information voters.The manufacture ,installation ,and maintenance of high tech scrubbers will not only protect our health and environment ,but obviously create MORE jobs-as compliance with most regulations do.The insatiable greed of corporate utility operators [who already have all the advantages of a complete monopoly of an essential service,largely subsidized by taxpayers] is the only interest that does not benefit from these changes.

Not all Navajo or Hopi are dismayed. Some of us are actually elated with the idea of stopping haze and any related health issue that it may caused. Your wording is rather affront.

9/7/2011 Durango Herald: Air quality backpedal – Obama’s retreat from rule was wrong

9/7/2011 Durango Herald: Air quality backpedal-Obama’s retreat from rule was wrong: One of the oft- and rightly criticized hallmarks of George W. Bush’s environmental policy was its brazen disregard for science, instead favoring political or ideological arguments. To the environmental community, and all those who value policies that are built upon research and scientific rigor, the Obama administration’s promise to do just that in its environmental efforts was a welcome answer to the Bush era. So it was with no small amount of disappointment that news was received last week of the administration’s decision to abandon an effort to tighten ground-level ozone standards.

Had the announcement been justified by science, it might have made the pill less bitter to swallow, but that was not the case. Instead, the decision appears to have come as a result of some rather basic political calculus, infused with integers from a concerted lobbying effort on the part of a range of business interests – including the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Tapping into the hot-button political issues such as jobs and burdensome regulatory efforts that stymie economic growth, this lobbying cohort effectively chastened the administration into abandoning the revised ozone standard so as not to give Republicans fodder for criticizing Obama’s commitment to job creation and economic recovery.

The trouble is, that is a false premise that gained unwarranted traction at a time steeped in all-jobs-all-the-time rhetoric. In accepting that claim, Obama has sidestepped a more important issue: public health and its impact on economies – not to mention communities, human and otherwise – over the long term.

The revised ozone standard that was widely expected to be accepted by Obama, would have reduced the limit of acceptable levels of ozone from 75 parts per billion to 60 to 70 parts per billion. That change would have meant many counties across the country exceeded the limit. La Plata County’s fate under the revision was uncertain, but noncompliance was a possibility. Regardless, ground-level ozone – that which is generated as a result of emissions from industrial activity such as gas and oil drilling – is known to cause a range of health problems such as increased asthma rates, as well as compounded effects of emphysema and bronchitis, and an overall decrease in lung capacity. The Environmental Protection Agency’s analysis of the standard found that a 60 to 70 parts per billion limit would be the most cost-effective way to address the growing issue. Despite opponents’ claim that the new rule would cost industry $90 billion a year to implement, the EPA found that savings of up to $100 billion each year would result. Nevertheless, Obama punted.

Aside from the disproportionate role politics played in his decision to ignore the EPA scientists’ recommendations, Obama showed a troubling willingness to play fast and loose with public health. With documented ill effects associated with ground-level ozone, erring on the side of caution, particularly when that caution is bolstered by abundant scientific evidence, is the responsibility of any good policymaker. Shirking that charge in order to win an election and duck criticism is a disappointment – to those to whom the administration promised better, to those who expect reason and research to take precedence over calculation and rhetoric, and to those who have seen the effectiveness of regulation in protecting those who suffer the environmental and health consequences of the industries that shape our economy. Both are essential to consider in formulating policy and striking a balance is always a goal, but putting a political finger on the scales produces nothing but cynicism.

Durango Telegraph: EPA cracks down on San Juan Generating Station

Durango Telegraph: EPA cracks down on area power plantOne of the Four Corners biggest polluters is in line for a make-over. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new rules that will require “modern controls” for the San Juan Generating Station. Not surprisingly, Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM), the power plant’s owner, has objected to the new ruling and is already planning an appeal. Located just west of Farmington, the San Juan Generating Station has been burning coal to generate electricity for more than 40 years. The plant also produces 16,000 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions each year and is ranked as the ninth dirtiest coal-fired plant in the West. Nitrogen oxide not only creates haze, it is a primary ingredient in ground-level ozone, “the most widespread pollutant in the United State (and) one of the most dangerous,” according to the American Lung Association. Ozone has been linked with asthma attacks, respiratory problems, lung damage and premature death.

The EPA rule announced last Thursday will require the addition of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) pollution controls on the plant’s four boilers in the next five years. The upgrade is expected to cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent. The announcement is also a landmark and the EPA’s first federal plan in the country to limit nitrogen oxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. Watchdogs and conservationists hailed the move as a victory.

“We are pleased that EPA has done right in this precedent setting rule-making for the communities adversely affected by continued reliance on energy export coal-derived electricity,” said Mike Eisenfeld, of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The true costs of relying on coal are coming to bear, and PNM is being held accountable for their pollution.”

The State of New Mexico and PNM take a dimmer view and had been lobbying for a different approach to pollution control at the San Juan Generating Station. However, their plan would have cut nitrogen oxide emissions by just 20 percent. The company is now arguing that the EPA’s plan will be an undue burden on New Mexico customers and is planning to appeal the decision.

“The EPA plan adds unnecessary costs to one of our lowest-cost sources of reliable power,” said Pat Themig, PNM vice president of generation. “If it stands, it will lead to significantly higher future electric rates for the 2 million customers who rely on the plant for reasonably priced power.”

Themig added that the EPA plan will require expenditures in excess of $750 million, while PNM’s would have cost just $77 million. The State of New Mexico concurred and in June approved the lower cost option at San Juan.

“The Clean Air Act gives each state the authority to implement a regional haze program appropriate for the state, and New Mexico exercised this authority when it approved its own plan in June,” Themig said. “EPA’s decision does not relieve it of legal responsibility to fully consider New Mexico’s plan.”

Eisenfeld countered that Themig’s argument is beside the point and argued that the company should be exploring 21st century technology and abandoning its reliance on coal-fired power.

“PNM could be transitioning to more sustainable energy forms in the Four Corners region that more readily reflect current renewable energy technologies rather than retrofitting 1970s archaic coal plants at continued high cost to our communities,” he said.

Donna House, of Diné CARE, a Navajo conservation organization, agreed. “Pollution from this plant has been hurting our communities for generations,” she said. “Cutting coal pollution is a must, and moving to a cleaner energy than coal is the real answer.”

8/6/2011 EPA requires cleanup at NM coal-powered plant

8/6/2011 Summit County Citizens Voice: EPA requires cleanup at NM coal-powered plant New pollution controls at coal-fired plant near the Four Corners will benefit public health and reduce regional haze; Utility company says it will appeal the federal decision By Summit Voice: SUMMIT COUNTY — Residents of the Four Corners region and tourists in the famed national parks in the area will be able to breathe a bit easier after the EPA this week issued a final rule that will help cut harmful nitrogen oxide emissions from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico by 80 percent. The coal plant also emits more than 5,500 tons of sulfur dioxide per year.

The EPA’s decision is part of a larger effort to implement Clean Air Act provisions that have long been ignored by state and and federal regulators. The rules require a reduction in regional haze that clouds views in more than 150 national parks and wilderness areas.

According to a Clean Air Task Force report, San Juan Generating Station is responsible for more than 80 percent of the air pollution at Mesa Verde National Park, just across the border in Colorado. It also contributes to air pollution at the Grand Canyon and many other nationally protected landscapes. Parks in the region support thousands of jobs and the millions of people who visit them each year contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to local economies.

The plant’s operator, Public Service Company of New Mexico, said it will appeal the ruling and warned in a prepared statement that the cost of retrofitting the plany with up-to-date pollution controls will increase energy prices for consumers.

The usual cast of characters, including business groups and some elected officials, lobbied against the new EPA rules, saying that a less aggressive state plan would cost less and also reduce air pollution, but the EPA’s exhaustive environmental study of the plant shows the state plan would not meet air quality standards.

The power company estimates it could cost up to $750 million to retrofit the plant, while according to the EPA’s economic analysis, the cost should be closer to $230 million.

Either way, the power company doesn’t take into account the indirect costs of the air pollution. By some estimates, premature deaths, asthma attacks, heart attacks, chronic bronchitis, and hospital visits from San Juan Generating Station’s pollution have cost an estimated $255 million a year.

The EPA decision to limit nitrogen oxide emissions from all four boilers at the San Juan plant will likely require the operators to retrofit the plant with selective catalytic reduction pollution controls. It’s the first federal plan in the country that will require adequate pollution controls to limit nitrogen oxide emissions under Clean Air Act provisions to reduce regional haze. There are decades-old plants with major pollution problems in more than 40 other states that will face similar decisions on pollution upgrades in the coming year or two.

Conservation groups see the limits on the San Juan plant as a possible bellwether of what’s to come at other plants. Requiring coal-fired power plants to comply with environmental laws could help speed the pace of transition to cleaner fuels.

At the most fundamental level, reducing the nitrogen oxide pollution is a public health issue. Nitrogen oxide reacts with other compounds to form small particles that penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs. It is also a raw ingredient in ground-level ozone, which the American Lung Association calls “the most widespread pollutant in the U.S. [and] one of the most dangerous.” Ozone leads to asthma attacks, respiratory problems, lung damage, and even premature death.

“Pollution from this plant has been hurting our communities for generations,” said Donna House with Diné CARE, a volunteer-driven conservation organization on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners region. “Cutting coal pollution is a must, and moving to a cleaner energy than coal is the real answer.”

San Juan Generating Station currently dumps nearly 16,000 tons of nitrogen oxide into the air each year, making it the ninth worst polluter out of more than 40 coal plants in Western states. Together with the nearby 48-year-old Four Corners Power Plant (worst in the west for nitrogen oxide), the two coal-burning plants’ combined emissions account for at least two-thirds of total nitrogen oxide pollution in San Juan County where they’re located and a quarter of all nitrogen oxide emissions statewide in New Mexico. The American Lung Association has given San Juan County an “F” grade for ozone pollution due to the number of days each year that it surpasses levels of ozone concentrations that the ALA considers unhealthy.

“Over the years, we’ve seen more and more children and adults coming in with asthma and respiratory problems, especially from the areas affected by the coal plant emissions,” said Adella Begaye, a nurse with 20 years of experience on the Navajo Nation. “Big polluters such as the San Juan and Four Corners coal plants have to be held responsible for the health costs they cause.”

The state and San Juan Generating Station owner PNM had lobbied for far less effective pollution controls which would have cut nitrogen oxide emissions by just 20percent.

Other plants in the Southwest that will face pollution-control improvements include the 38-year-old Navajo Generating Station in Arizona (fourth worst among western state coal plants for nitrogen oxide pollution), Four Corners, and the 46-year-old Reid Gardner Station near Las Vegas. Long overdue deadlines are being set now for decisions on pollution-control upgrades at more than 70 aging coal-burning plants around the country.

The EPA stepped in as a result of the absence of an adequate state plan to reduce pollution at San Juan Generating Station. EPA’s decision to require an 80 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide pollution at the plant is broadly supported by other federal agencies, including the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as public health, environmental, tribal, and other community organizations regionally and nationally. These include San Juan Citizens Alliance, Diné CARE, WildEarth Guardians, National Parks Conservation Association, Earthjustice, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and others.

Western U.S. experts on energy and the environment praise the decision to reduce the dangerous air pollution from one of America’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants.

“EPA’s action to clean up the San Juan Generating Station will protect public health, and will also help clear the haze at Mesa Verde National Park and our other cherished wilderness areas in the Four Corners region,” said Pamela Campos of Environmental Defense Fund’s Rocky Mountain office. “Today’s decision sets a strong precedent for reducing coal plant pollution, protecting our families’ health, and preserving our parks around the country.”

“We are pleased that EPA has not bowed to corporate pressure and is protecting our air quality and beautiful landscapes and vistas for ourselves and our children”, said Steve Michel, Chief Counsel for Western Resource Advocates’ Energy Program.

“The money that Public Service Company of New Mexico will need to spend to install the industry-standard pollution controls demonstrates how the cost of coal is rapidly increasing throughout the country,” said Bill Corcoran, Western Region Director, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Coal is a horribly dirty and dangerous fossil fuel and it takes a tremendous toll on our health and pocketbooks each and every day. Especially as clean energy resources such as solar and wind have become more affordable, it is absurd that utilities would continue throwing their customer’s money at an increasingly expensive fossil fuel like coal,” he concluded.

Op Ed on San Juan Generating Station: Healthy Air is Healthy for Our Economy

Op Ed on San Juan Generating Station: Healthy Air is Healthy for Our Economy By David Van Winkle and Adella Begaye: Labored breathing, coughing, burning lungs. If you’ve done outdoor activity on a hot day with bad air quality, you may know the feeling. For a child with asthma, those high-smog days can bring on suffocating attacks. For someone with respiratory or cardiovascular problems, they can be fatal. That’s why the recent news is so welcome that one of our region’s biggest air polluters – the San Juan Generating Station – will have to dramatically reduce its emissions. On Friday, Aug. 5, the EPA announced that it will require the nearly 40-year-old coal-burning power plant near Farmington to cut its nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 80 percent.

Nitrogen oxide is one of the raw ingredients in ozone, the invisible chemical in smog that the American Lung Association calls “the most widespread pollutant in the U.S. [and] one of the most dangerous.” Ozone leads to asthma attacks, respiratory problems, lung damage, and even premature death. Nitrogen oxide is also an ingredient in fine particle pollution that penetrates deeply into the lungs.

The San Juan plant near Farmington dumps nearly 16,000 tons of nitrogen oxide into the air each year. If you add in emissions from the nearby 48-year-old Four Corners Power Plant – another of the nation’s dirtiest – the two account for at least two-thirds of all nitrogen oxide pollution in San Juan County and a quarter of the total statewide.

That outsized negative impact on our air is why requiring old coal plants to install overdue pollution controls is so important. Especially in the surrounding areas most affected by their pollution, such as on the Navajo Nation, we’ve seen the pollution linked to too many children and adults who need frequent medical attention for asthma and other respiratory problems.

The harm done to human health by these coal pollutants carries heavy financial costs. Asthma attacks, heart attacks, premature deaths and hospital visits from San Juan Generating Station’s pollution add up to an estimated $255 million a year in health care expenses that are passed on to the public, according to the independent Clean Air Task Force.

In its effort to keep San Juan Generating Station running without adequate pollution controls, PNM has greatly exaggerated the cost of the pollution controls – called selective catalytic reduction – that are needed to meet EPA’s nitrogen oxide limit. According to EPA, which bases its estimates on hundreds of other plants that have already installed this technology, it should cost $345 million to bring San Juan up to standard – one-third of the exaggerated costs PNM is claiming.

In fact, the billion-dollar cost estimate PNM is making up for installing selective catalytic reduction is nearly twice the highest cost on record for any previous installation of these controls. Given that PNM owns just under half the facility, the cost that it should really be putting forth publicly is about $160 million.

Compared to the toll on human health exacted by burning coal and the resulting $255 million in health-care savings that New Mexico residents would see, it makes perfect economic sense to simply bring San Juan up to the standards that other plants across the country already meet.

Ultimately, though, it makes even more sense to weigh any of these costs against the idea of beginning now to transition away from coal to clean and renewable energy sources.

Wind and solar are abundant in New Mexico and could provide significant job opportunities. Clean energy does not drain scarce water supplies like burning coal does, it has no cost implications for public health, and it avoids the millions needed to retrofit an old coal plant.

PNM’s continued reliance on coal isn’t saving us money — just the opposite. The company has raised rates 25 percent in the past three years and is proposing to raise rates another 20 percent over the next two. These rate increases aren’t from renewable energy – PNM’s most recent quarterly report shows zero in capital expenditures for clean energy for the next four years. The utility keeps raising rates to cover the increasing costs of burning coal and running an aging coal plant. If it really put a priority on costs, PNM should be doing so much more to embrace energy efficiency programs that are industry-proven to save ratepayers money.

With energy rates going up because of coal, with health costs high because of coal, and with old coal plants like San Juan Generating Station requiring major expenditures to better protect health, isn’t it time now to generate more of our electricity from a clean source to begin with?

For so many kids and adults who have been breathing coal-plant pollution for generations – and for so many New Mexicans who’ve been paying for the increasing costs of coal – the answer to that question will mean a world of difference.

David Van Winkle is a member of the Rio Grande Chapter of Sierra Club.

Adella Begaye has 20 years of experience as a registered nurse working on the Navajo Nation.