Tag Archives: National Parks

10/23/2011 Albuquerque Journal: Battle Over San Juan

The 1,798-megawatt coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington has been ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to install more pollution controls to cut emissions that cause haze. The mine that supplies the plant’s coal, operated by the San Juan Coal Company, can be seen in the background. Photo Credit – Richard Pipes/Journal 10/23/2011 Albuquerque Journal: Battle Over San Juan By Michael Hartranft / Journal Staff Writer: It’s called selective catalytic reduction — a million-dollar term for pollution control if ever there was one. Make that hundreds of millions of dollars in the case of the giant, coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington, its owners and the consumers who use the electricity it generates.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 office says SCR is the most cost-effective way — the agency estimates the cost at $345 million — to retrofit San Juan to cut pollutants that reduce visibility in national parks and wilderness areas and contribute to regional haze, as required by the Clean Air Act. It has given PNM and the other owners of the plant five years to complete the installation.

PNM argues that the federal agency’s prescription for San Juan would cost a lot more than the EPA claims it would — hitting New Mexico customers in the pocketbook — and says it can get satisfactory results for a lot less money.

The electric utility says the price tag for the EPA plan will approach $750 million, or more, causing up to an initial $85-a-year hit on the average residential customer’s bill to pay for PNM’s share of the project. It owns about 46 percent of San Juan, and the electricity generated there serves about 500,000 PNM customers.

Regardless of who is right on the cost estimate, this much is clear: The utility’s customers will pick up the tab, because the cost would be factored into rates.

Less costly plan

PNM says a less costly retrofit would achieve satisfactory results — nearly indistinguishable to the human eye. The cost of an EPA-required SCR system would be in addition to a $320 million environmental upgrade completed at the plant two years ago.

The EPA issued its ruling in August, and, on Sept. 16, PNM appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It also asked the EPA to stay the new rule until the court makes a decision.

“EPA’s aggressive, five-year compliance time frame means that without a stay, we will be forced to begin spending enormous sums of money without knowing if EPA’s decision will stand,” said Pat Themig, PNM vice president for generation.

The company claims that if it takes a year for a court ruling, it will already have spent $43.6 million on early design and construction.

The EPA, which stepped in with a plan when the state didn’t meet the deadline to submit its own, contends that SCR would cut one of the main haze-causing emissions, nitrogen oxide, by more than 80 percent — reducing visibility impacts by 50 percent in 16 Class 1 park and wilderness areas in four states affected by San Juan. The agency says it will also result in healthier air.

Environmental groups across the region hailed the EPA ruling.

“The EPA took a bold and necessary stand to protect people and businesses from coal’s toxic pollution,” said Bill Corcoran of the Sierra Club.

About coal itself

In some respects, the fight is over the use of coal itself. The Obama administration and some environmental groups have made no secret of their dislike for coal-fired generation of electricity, which tends to be much cheaper than “green” alternatives.

Gov. Susana Martinez said she supports developing alternative energy technology and making it a bigger part of the state’s overall energy portfolio. But the EPA decision is “detrimental” to New Mexico, she told the Journal in an email last week.

“In recent months, even President Obama has conceded that onerous environmental regulations can place a tremendous financial burden on states, businesses and families — and yet the EPA continues to try to impose these new, stifling regulations,” she said.

PNM says federal regulators combined the requirements of two separate rules — regional haze and cross-state pollution — into one to meet an Aug. 5 deadline set in a consent decree signed with WildEarth Guardians that applied only to cross-state pollution.

In doing so, it argues, the EPA did not give proper deference to a state plan for regional haze adopted in June by the Martinez-appointed Environmental Improvement Board, which proposed an alternative technology.

It contends the differences in visibility improvements between that technology — selective noncatalytic reduction — and SCR would barely be perceptible to the human eye.

The price tag for SNCR would be much lower, however — an estimated $77 million and about a $12-a-year impact on ratepayers.

San Juan employs about 400 people, with the adjacent San Juan Coal Mine that supplies the fuel providing jobs for another 500. The first two generating units were built about 40 years ago, and the company expects to keep the plant going for at least another 40.

It’s about visibility

“Our emissions are within the national ambient air quality standards for human health,” said Maureen Gannon, executive director of environmental services for PNM. “This is about visibility, about what the human eye can see. We believe the EPA has gone far over what the regulation was intended to do.”

The EPA is standing by its decision but says it will review the state’s plan and change its analysis if new information warrants.

However, it says an evaluation of the state-proposed SNCR technology showed it would achieve far less reduction in pollution and less visibility improvement.

The regional haze rule stems from a Clean Air Act provision that requires states to improve visibility in 159 Class 1 national parks and wilderness areas, such as the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, Bandelier National Monument and 13 other sites in the New Mexico region.

The goal is to restore visibility by 2064 to what it would have been without human impact.

The rule required states to adopt implementation plans addressing the main pollutants that cause haze and to establish reasonable progress goals.

States were also required to evaluate best available retrofit technologies for older, large stationary sources that might be affecting Class 1 sites.

In 2006, the New Mexico Environment Department requested a best available retrofit analysis at San Juan to determine whether additional controls might be needed to comply.

PNM contended that existing controls at the plant — which was undergoing a $320 million upgrade under a 2005 consent decree to settle emissions violations between 2001 and 2003 — would meet the requirements.

Last year, though it was supposed to have submitted a plan to EPA by January 2009, the New Mexico Environment Department under then-Gov. Bill Richardson proposed SCR as the best available technology to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions at San Juan. It later withdrew the plan, in part because of cost concerns raised by PNM.

EPA steps in

The EPA, which had set a January 2011 deadline to issue a plan if the state didn’t meet the 2009 deadline, stepped in with its own proposal in December, starting the hearing and public review process that culminated with the rule in August. New Mexico became the first state to have a federal plan imposed on it for haze.

Calling San Juan one of the nation’s largest sources of nitrogen oxide — 18,400 tons a year, according to the EPA — the federal agency says its plan would cut those emissions by more than 80 percent.

PNM contends the recent upgrade cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 44 percent — from 27,500 tons to 15,300 tons a year — and that its proposed fix would cut it by an additional 30 percent a year. The company says sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and mercury were also significantly reduced in the upgrade.

The EPA said it was bound by the haze rule to evaluate additional technologies and it found SCR the most cost effective. The evaluation also included selective noncatalytic reduction.

The nitrogen oxide limit set at San Juan was based on an assessment of the best-performing coal plants with SCR, Region 6 regional haze coordinator Joe Kordzi said.

“We found there were units that were consistently able to meet this emission limit that were similar to the ones PNM is operating at the San Juan station,” he said.

Kordzi said that, in terms of visibility, the SCR technology would improve it noticeably, while “SNCR hardly made any difference at all.” PNM disagrees and says improvements with SCR might not be visible to the naked eye.

The agency made some key changes based on PNM’s comments during the review process, Kordzi said, including giving owners five years, instead of three, to comply. It agreed to up its original cost estimate from $229 million to $345 million, largely due to issues raised by PNM, although that’s still nowhere near the $750 million PNM says the cost will be.

The EPA contends PNM and its consultant, Black & Veatch, overestimated numerous cost items.

The agency, among other things, said PNM failed to follow the EPA’s cost control manual, consistently used assumptions “at the upper end of the range” for key components, and included unnecessary equipment.

PNM’s cost position

PNM, however, says the EPA omitted critical elements, including $71 million in annual operating expense, as well as major capital costs. Those costs, it says, include $73 million-plus for added auxiliary power equipment, $78 million in lost generation due to extended outages, $126 million for an SCR bypass to protect the equipment during startup, and $78 million in interest during construction.

Black & Veatch’s original estimate was based on a best available retrofit analysis in 2007. Gannon concedes it wasn’t a “detailed engineering estimate,” but said the company is an architect/engineering firm that designs and builds SCRs and is familiar with construction complexities at San Juan — which include installing equipment 200 feet above the plant floor in already congested space.

“And we had some concern, maybe there is some truth to this concern about overestimation,” Gannon said. “So now we’ve had another company (Sargent & Lundy) go out — and they’re at $741 million.”

N.M.’s counteroffer

Not long after Gov. Martinez took office, the state Environment Department under her new secretary, F. David Martin, proposed a PNM-backed plan calling for SNCR, which it said would cost an estimated $77 million to install and would achieve a nitrogen oxide limit it believed would comply with the rule.

Gannon said EPA guidelines for making best available retrofit determinations require agencies to take into account cost, environmental impacts, existing pollution controls, remaining life of the source and degree of improvement that might result.

“When you use that five-factor path, the state plan meets that in terms of additional controls, costs and it does result in some visibility improvements, although you may not be able to see it,” Gannon said. “But you probably won’t be able to see SCR either.”

PNM’s modeling showed that the EPA’s proposed SCR technology would make noticeable visibility improvements at only one of the 16 areas, Mesa Verde.

The company contends the EPA used an antiquated version of the same model it used, in showing visible improvement in nine areas.

Visible differences

“There are some chemistry assumptions we don’t agree with,” Gannon said. “We actually brought in the developer of the model to do some additional modeling, and he, in essence, concurred with the result we were getting.”

She said that SNCR represents reasonable progress toward the Clean Air Act’s goal and that the state could come back in five years and require the plant to install SCR if it deems it necessary.

“For EPA to ask us to do this enormous project in such a short period of time does not make sense from a regulatory perspective,” she said.

Both PNM and the EPA are getting sideline support.

Carla Sonntag, executive director of the New Mexico Utility Shareholders Alliance, a group that represents 12,000 shareholders of gas and electric utilities, is chiefly concerned about the rule’s impact on ratepayers, particularly those with lower incomes.

“If there was a significant difference between the state plan and the EPA, that would be one thing to consider, but there’s really not. It’s negligible,” she said. “But the cost is exorbitant, and that’s going to go back into rates. We feel it’s just unjustified.”

The Sierra Club’s David Van Winkle, though, contends that PNM’s cost estimate is a scare tactic and that the rule should be a trigger point for PNM to rethink its continued investments in coal-fired power, still its major energy source.

“Just from a risk standpoint, you’d think you’d want to diversify … so that you’re not so heavily dependent on that one resource in an area that is heavily regulated,” Van Winkle said.

He allowed that the rule is a visibility regulation.

“But, it’s true that nitrogen oxide is a health problem, so why are we splitting hairs?” he asked.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

8/10/2011 High Country News: Haze be gone

8/10/2011 High Country News: Haze be gone: When I started researching regional haze rules a few months back, a source warned me that I was wading into the Clean Air Act’s wonkiest, most technically complicated depths. I remember her asking me something like: “Are you sure you want to go there?” Which is to say, you’d be forgiven if you paid little attention to regional haze. Eyes tend to glaze over at mention of the term. But here’s why you should care about haze rules: They’re poised to make a major dent in the air pollutants spewed from the West’s oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants. Facing huge costs to bring it into compliance with haze regulation, the Boardman power plant in Oregon decided to close in 2020, 20 years ahead of schedule. The Navajo Generating Station could suffer a similar fate. And last week, after rejecting the state of New Mexico’s plan for clearing the haze caused by emissions from the San Juan Generating Station, the Environmental Protection Agency issued the final version of its own plan for the coal plant,which requires it to install better pollution controls that reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by a whopping 80 percent.

The goal of the haze rules is to restore air quality in national parks and wilderness areas, or Class 1 areas in regulatory jargon. The San Juan Generating Station is to thank for most of the air pollution that shrouds Mesa Verde. And the pollutants falling under haze regulation also impact public health, causing respiratory ailments and asthma, for example. According to the Summit County Citizens Voice, the San Juan Generating Station and the Four Corners Power Plant nearby are collectively responsible “for at least two-thirds of total nitrogen oxide pollution in San Juan County … 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.”

Environmentalists are praising the EPA’s crackdown on the generating station, and hoping it’s a sign of more tough rules to come. As the Citizens Voice reports: “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.”

Cally Carswell is HCN’s assistant editor.
http://www.hcn.org/hcn/blogs/goat/haze-be-gone

Mike Eisenfeld
New Mexico Energy Coordinator
San Juan Citizens Alliance
108 North Behrend, Suite I
Farmington, New Mexico 87401
office 505 325-6724
cell 505 360-8994
meisenfeld@frontier.net

8/5/2011 NPCA Applauds EPA's Decision to Limit Air Pollution at San Juan Generating Station to Protect National Parks and People

8/5/2011 PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Counsel, National Parks Conservation Association, W: 865-329-2424, C: 865-964-1774, skodish@npca.org and Jeff Billington, Senior Media Relations Manager, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 419-3717, jbillington@npca.org : NPCA Applauds EPA’s Decision to Limit Air Pollution at San Juan Generating Station to Protect National Parks and People: Federal Agency Responsible for Protecting Air Holds Major Polluter Accountable by Setting Adequate Limits on Damaging Emissions “Despite facing extreme pressure to allow weaker standards, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 6 today released adequate requirements for the San Juan Generating Station, which finally bring it in line with the standards dictated by the Clean Air Act’s regional haze rule. This decision by the EPA is a prime example of the type of requirements that are needed to protect the health and future of our national parks and the people who live near and visit them.

“The clean-up plan requires one of the nation’s dirtiest coal plants to install modern pollution controls; controls that are routinely used at other coal plants nationwide. We strongly support the EPA in applying similar standards to other antiquated power plants currently belching pollution into national parks across the country.

“Because of the EPA and this plan, the people of and visitors drawn to this region will be able to breathe easier and to see clearer the incredible splendor of places like Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon. We look forward to the EPA’s work in future months to require similar pollution limits, which truly take the intent of the Clean Air Act to heart, to additional power plants nationwide.”

###

8/5/2011 Clean Air Plan for San Juan Generating Station Finalized: New Mexico on Track for Significant Public Health and Environmental Protection Contact: Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x 1303 Download the EPA’s Proposal: San Juan County, NM—A milestone plan to limit haze and smog forming pollution by more than 80% from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico was finalized today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plan marks the first EPA plan in the nation to clean up aging coal-fired power plants, setting a high bar for the protection of public health and the environment.

“This is a huge step forward for clean air and clean energy in New Mexico,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “This plan puts public health and the environment first using the most up-to-date cost-effective pollution controls are used. This is a win-win plan.”

The EPA is finally taking action to clean up the San Juan Generating Station in response to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has been required to ensure the oldest and dirtiest sources of air pollution curb their emissions to reduce haze in National Parks and wilderness areas.

Modeling prepared by Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, shows the San Juan Generating Station contributes to 80% of all visibility degradation in Mesa Verde National Park, 70% in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness, and 45% in Bandelier National Monument. Called “Best Available Retrofit Technology,” the EPA’s plan would reduce visibility impairment by more than 40%.

Under the EPA’s plan, which was proposed in early January of this year, PNM will be required to meet updated limits on haze forming nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution. The San Juan Generating Station would have to meet a nitrogen oxide emission rate of 0.05 lb/mmbtu through the use of selective catalytic reduction, the most up-to-date, cost-effective control technology, reducing emissions by more than 80%. The company will have to meet these limits within five years.

The same pollutants that form haze are the same that form smog and particulates. In 2010, the American Lung Association gave San Juan County’s air quality an “F” for because of smog pollution. It is estimated that every year, haze, smog, and particulates from the San Juan Generating Station cause 33 premature deaths, 50 heart attacks, 600 asthma attacks, 21 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 31 asthma-related emergency room visits every year at a cost of more than $250 million.

Still, WildEarth Guardians has called on PNM to instead spend its money to fully retire the San Juan Generating Station and offset the electricity it generates with renewable energy. New Mexico already has a 20% renewable energy standard and reports show that a combination of rooftop solar and wind energy could meet New Mexico’s power needs by more than seventy-fold. Utilities in Colorado and other states are beginning to retire coal-fired power plants, opting against investing millions in the face of mounting environmental liability.

“Clean air and clean energy go hand in hand,” said Nichols. “There is no such thing as clean coal and we hope PNM uses this opportunity to transition toward cleaner energy. If not, we are at least heartened that we have the strongest safeguards in place to protect our communities from the San Juan Generating Station.”

Although the State of New Mexico was originally required to adopt a clean up plan for the San Juan Generating Station, because of delay and the inability of the state to develop a plan that complied with the Clean Air Act, the EPA developed its own proposal. Under the Clean Air Act, where states fail to protect clean air, the EPA is legally obligated to develop federal plans. The EPA’s plan still allows the State of New Mexico to develop its own plan, so long as it is at least as strong.
Operated and primarily owned by Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, the San Juan Generation Station is an 1,800 megawatt power plant that every year releases thousands of tons of toxic air pollution from its smokestacks.

Located 15 miles west of Farmington, the plant consists of four boilers and 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.