2005: Cleaner Air in Four Corners
Celebrating 55 years!
2018 is our 55th anniversary. Throughout the year, in the Sierran and on our website, we’ll be looking back at some of the events, issues, victories and struggles that shaped New Mexico and El Paso.

In December 2017, San Juan Generating Station will retire half its coal-fired generation plant. The Four Corners area has already boasted greatly improved air-quality scores in recent years, resulting in large part from Sierra Club legal challenges in the early 2000s, including this one, with Grand Canyon Trust, resulting in PNM installing $330 million worth of pollution reductions at San Juan and paying $6.9 million in fines to the General Fund.

The following is from a March 10, 2005, press release:

Thousands of tons of air pollution, linked to serious health problems and haze, will no longer be dumped into Four Corners skies under an agreement reached between the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, and Public Service Company of New Mexico.

The agreement resolves a lawsuit brought against the San Juan power plant in 2002.

In 2003, San Juan spewed more than 14,500 tons of sulfur dioxide, 25,000 tons of nitrogen oxide, and 750 pounds of highly toxic mercury into the region’s air.

“The San Juan power plant has been dumping pollution into our air for years, which has put the health and well-being of me and my neighbors at risk. … This agreement means we’ll soon be breathing cleaner air and viewing clearer skies,” said Verl Hopper of Aztec, N.M.

“This historic agreement will take more than 16,000 tons of pollution out of our air, which is the equivalent of removing half a million cars from New Mexico’s roads,” said Gov. Bill Richardson

The Grand Canyon Trust and Sierra Club filed suit in 2002, alleging that PNM was regularly violating its air-quality permit at San Juan. In 2004, Federal Judge Bruce Black rejected PNM’s excuses. To avoid a second trial, PNM agreed in 2004 that it had violated the opacity limit at San Juan 42,008 times, and parties began negotiating a settlement of the case. Today’s consent decree is the product of those discussions.

“The environment of the Four Corners region, and the health of current residents and future generations are the big winners in the agreement with PNM to clean up San Juan,” said Rick Moore, Associate Director of the Grand Canyon Trust.

“The Trust appreciates both the wisdom provided by Congress when it gave citizens the right to enforce the Clean Air Act, and PNM’s decision to not continue litigation which may have taken years to resolve.”

The agreement, memorialized as a federally enforceable consent decree lodged with the court, requires

  • Additional pollution control equipment to reduce sulfur dioxide by several thousand tons;
  • The installation of state-of-the-art “low NOx burners” to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 10,000 tons;
  • The installation of “baghouses” (giant vacuum bags);
  • And the installation of activated carbon pollution control equipment to reduce mercury by as much as 80 percent.

“We are excited about this agreement, including PNM’s commitment to install the mercury pollution control equipment — a first in the western United States,” said Susan Martin, Chairperson of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“The San Juan basin has the highest levels of measured mercury in the West; so installing equipment to reduce mercury at the San Juan plant is a common sense solution that will have a positive impact on the entire West.”


2005: Cleaner Air in Four Corners
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