Monday, March 16, 2009


Gov. Bill Ritter and Attorney General John Suthers today pledged to work together to reduce air pollution in the Four Corners region.


Last week, Gov. Ritter's administration urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its decision to permit the proposed Desert Rock power plant in northwestern New Mexico, and also asked the EPA to require the installation of emissions controls at the existing Four Corners Power Plant located nearby.


"It is past time that we cleaned up the Four Corners Power plant, one of the largest sources of air pollution in the country, so that we can reduce ozone, people can breath easier, and we can improve our western vistas towards what they used to be and should be." Gov. Ritter said.


Attorney General Suthers added that if the northwestern area of New Mexico is designated as non-attainment because of high ozone levels recently monitored in the area (something the state of New Mexico is contesting), it would be unfair and unreasonable to include Colorado in that designation.


"Colorado has been ahead of the game on both ozone and mercury emissions, and the state should be rewarded, not penalized," Attorney General Suthers said.


The Four Corners Power Plant, a coal-fired electric generating station, is located on Navajo Nation lands about 25 miles west of Farmington. The Four Corners Power Plant is the largest single nitrogen oxide source in the nation, emitting more than 40,000 tons of the ozone-causing pollution annually.


In a letter to Carol Rushin, acting regional administrator for EPA's Region 8, the state said "there is substantial reason to believe the ozone non-attainment issue in New Mexico's San Juan County could be fully mitigated without further action if EPA were to require the installation of emission controls at the facilities located on the Navajo Reservation."


"It is simply past time that this enormous source of pollution was cleaned up; the bill has come due," Gov. Ritter said.


Colorado also expressed disappointment over EPA's recent decision to permit the Desert Rock Energy Facility, a 1,500 megawatt, coal-fired power plant proposed for construction on Navajo Nation lands about 30 miles southwest of Farmington, N. M.


In the letter to Rushin, the state said the Desert Rock plant "…is a significant new source of NOx (nitrogen oxides) and other pollutants in the San Juan Basin that will, among other things, make it more difficult for northern New Mexico to comply with the revised ozone standard."


Attorney General Suthers pledged that his team of lawyers "will work closely with the Department of Public Health and Environment to protect Colorado's air, and to make sure that the solution comes from the sources that are causing the problem – especially the Four Corners Power Plant."


Last year, an ozone monitor located at New Mexico's Navajo Lake recorded ozone concentrations that pushed it out of compliance with the new federal health-based standard for ozone.


As a result, EPA is expected to designate at least a portion of northern New Mexico as "non-attainment" for the troublesome pollutant. All Colorado-based monitors in the region currently are complying with the standard.  However, in recent days the state of New Mexico has asserted that the violation was recorded in error, something the EPA and other stakeholders will have to resolve.


Ground-level ozone – not to be confused with the protective, naturally-occurring ozone layer in the earth's stratosphere – is the result of complex atmospheric chemistry in which volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides react chemically in the presence of sunlight. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of human health problems, including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion. It also can worsen bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.


The Four Corners Power Plant is a 2,040-megawatt, five-unit plant owned by six utilities in the southwest. The proposed Desert Rock Energy Facility is a joint effort of the Navajo Nation's Diné Power Authority and Houston-based Sithe Global Power LLC.


EPA Region 8 encompasses the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, as well as 27 sovereign tribal nations.