Proposed Air Pollution Controls Promise to Protect People, Parks and Prosperity in Southwest

Date:   December 21, 2010
Contact:   Karen Hevel-Mingo, Southwest Program Manager National Parks Conservation Association, (801) 521-0785
Anna Frazier, Diné CARE, (928) 401-0382
Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico Energy Coordinator San Juan Citizens Alliance, (505) 360-8994
Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director WildEarth Guardians, (303) 573-4898 x 1303

Proposed Air Pollution Controls Promise to Protect People, Parks and Prosperity in Southwest

SALT LAKE CITY, UT— A proposed rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today moves to clean up excessive pollution from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station located near Farmington, New Mexico, significantly improving the region’s air quality and strengthening its park tourism-based economy, announced the National Parks Conservation Association, San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, and Diné CARE.

The groups applauded the EPA for including reasonable controls and emission limits for nitrogen oxides, a principal haze-causing pollutant, and urged EPA to keep these elements in the final rule.

The San Juan Generating Station is the 7th largest coal-fired power plant in the West. Its four units went online between 1973 and 1982, collectively emitting enough pollution to perceptibly impact visibility at 16 nearby national parks, monuments and wilderness areas. 

“Without meaningful reductions in air pollution, the San Juan Generating Station will continue to unnecessarily obscure views in our beloved national parks and wilderness areas for decades to come,” said David Nimkin, southwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “This proposal follows through on the intentions of the law — to protect our parks as both natural and economic resources by limiting that pollution.”

In 2008, park units near the San Juan Generating Station — in designated Class I areas, which have the highest level of protection under the Clean Air Act — supported more than 18,000 local jobs in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, and saw more than 8 million recreation visits. In that same year, park visitors and staff contributed more than $721 million to local economies.

Haze pollution, in contrast, is an economic deterrent, causing lost work days, lower productivity, increased labor costs and higher health insurance costs — as well as health impacts like asthma, heart attacks and premature death.  Of the 394 national park sites in the U.S. National Park System, one in three — including eight in the Southwest — already exceed national health or visibility standards.

“No one benefits from haze pollution,” said Anna Frazier of Diné CARE. “It has affected the health of the people of this region for over 30 years, and we also know that it harms plants and wildlife. The decision to clean up these older power plants using cost-effective, industry-standard controls is a welcome gift to us all.”

If finalized, this rule will hold a significant park polluter accountable for its contributions to air pollution in accordance with the federal Regional Haze Program. The owners of the San Juan Generating Station would be required to install selective catalytic reduction, a standard pollution control technology, and to operate it at an efficient rate, cutting the plant’s nitrogen oxides emissions dramatically.

“The reductions proposed for San Juan are right in line with what’s being achieved elsewhere in the industry and should therefore be the standard for all the coal plants in the region,” said Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Anything less wouldn’t meet regulatory requirements.”

Regional haze regulations require that states or the EPA design and implement plans to curb haze-causing emissions, including those from the oldest and dirtiest polluters like the San Juan Generating Station. As a result of a lawsuit for failing to meet an earlier deadline, EPA must finalize a regional haze cleanup plan for New Mexico by June 21, 2011. The complete plan must include measures for the San Juan Generating Station as well as an evaluation of other sources, modeling of impacts and a long-term strategy to eliminate man-made haze in protected areas.

“Pollution reductions at San Juan Generating Station represent an important step towards addressing the long-term impacts of coal on the people and lands of the Four Corners,” said Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians. “But there’s more work to be done. This should be a wakeup call that clean energy is the better investment for our future.”

The proposed rule would also require limits on sulfuric acid, ammonia, and sulfur dioxide, all of which contribute to visibility problems. These emission limits would have to be met within three years of the final rule.

The Environmental Protection Agency is accepting written comments on the proposed rule, and will announce a deadline for comments in the next few weeks. One public hearing is currently planned in Farmington, New Mexico, but no details have been released.

The NPCA and other advocacy groups are reviewing the proposed rule and will submit formal comments by the required deadline.

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Regional Haze Timeline

1977 Some national parks have special protections under the Clean Air Act. In 1977 Congress updated the Clean Air Act to designate certain federal lands as “Class I areas,” which gave them the greatest level of protection. To qualify as Class I areas, the lands were required to be international parks or national wilderness areas, national memorial parks, or national parks of a certain size, and established before August 7, 1977.

1999 The Environmental Protection Agency established regulations in 1999 to eliminate regional haze and improve air quality in 156 national parks and wilderness areas. Known commonly as the “Regional Haze Rule,” it requires states, in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, and state governmental entities to develop and implement air quality protection plans (State or Federal Implementation Plans) to reduce the pollution that causes visibility impairment.

2007 The first deadline for states to submit plans to eliminate regional haze was December 17, 2007. However, 37 states failed to submit completed plans that complied with the Regional Haze Rule.

2008 In October 2008, NPCA sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its failure to enforce deadlines for the states to adopt these clean air plans.

2009 On January 15, 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a finding that 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands failed to submit appropriate State Implementation Plans.

2011 The Environmental Protection Agency must finalize a regional haze cleanup plan for almost all states by January 15, 2011. State plans must include a long-term strategy and “Best Available Retrofit Technology” (BART) for certain existing sources of pollution—most notably coal-fired power plants—that will lead to the elimination of visibility impairment in the 156 national parks and wilderness areas.

2018 Reassessment and revision of plans and established reasonable progress goals and strategies are scheduled for 2018 and every 10 years thereafter. States strategies should address their contribution to visibility problems in Class I areas both within and outside the state.

2064 Year by which states are to eliminate human-made haze pollution in the 156 protected areas. This date marks the goal for achieving national visibility conditions for parks and wilderness areas through regional haze implementation plans.

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