On Friday, August 5, the EPA issued a rule requiring installation of expensive air quality emissions controls for the San Juan Generating Station (SJGS), a 30 year-old power plant located west of Farmington, New Mexico. Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), which owns approximately half the plant, has estimated the cost of the EPA's order at $750 million to $1 billion, translating into an $85 annual increase to ratepayers, although these figures are disputed by environmental organizations. This comes on top of a nine percent rate increase recently approved by the Public Regulation Commission. PNM plans to appeal the EPA's decision.
The new rule finalizes a proposal issued in December, although it extends the compliance period from three to five years. In Clean Air Act (CAA) lingo, the EPA's order disapproves a portion of New Mexico's State Implementation Plan (SIP) and promulgates in its place a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP). The EPA found the state's SIP insufficient with respect to controlling emissions from the plant under CAA rules addressing regional haze, which include the requirement for best available retrofit technology (BART). In a statement posted on its website, the agency explained its rationale:
Today's federal plan relies on proven, cost-effective, and widely used technologies to protect public health in New Mexico and neighboring states by cutting dangerous nitrogen oxide emissions by over 80 percent from one of the nation’s largest polluting power plants. These efforts will dramatically improve visibility in 16 park and wilderness areas in the southwestern US, decreasing the number of days with impaired scenic views and as a result, promoting local tourism.
The EPA estimates that visibility impacts to national park and wilderness areas due to SJGS emissions will be reduced by over 50 percent. The claim that the technology ordered by the agency, known as selective catalytic reduction (SCR), will significantly improve visibility at scenic areas is controversial. In its own press release, PNM stated that an alternative technology, selective non-catalytic reduction (SNCR), would satisfy CAA visibility requirements at a much lower cost of $77 million. In June, the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board approved the installation of this less expensive alternative at SJGS and submitted this proposal to the EPA. PNM believes that the EPA did not adequately consider the state's proposal.
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