FARMINGTON — The haze is lifting on years of negotiations and Farmington officials say they do not like what they see.
A revision to the so-called "state implementation plan" for haze reduction at San Juan Generating Station near Waterflow mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was unveiled in October 2012 and calls for closing units two and three at the coal-fired power plant by the end of 2017. Selective non-catalytic reduction technology would be installed on the remaining two units in 2016.
City officials say the plan will result in a devastating loss of high-wage jobs. The city council will vote on a resolution opposing the plan at their meeting tonight. "I'm grateful that the council has agreed to take up the conversation that I've been pushing for," said Councilor Jason Sandel. "It's what we ought to be doing. I think there's no doubt that it's harmful to the Four Corners."
Valerie Smith, a spokeswoman for the Public Service Company of New Mexico, PNM, which operates the power plant, said the company supports the revised plan.
"Without this arrangement, we would have to install (selective catalytic reduction technology)," she said. "That would have cost about $850 million."
The revised plan will be voted on by the New Mexico Environment Department's Environmental Improvement Board during meetings on Sept. 5 and 6 in Farmington. An agenda for the meeting has not yet been released.
Although the revised state plan would cost about $75 million, Farmington officials say the loss of jobs in the region could be a fatal blow to a sluggish economy.
"The loss of 300-350 high-paying jobs is a high price to pay for an improvement to visibility," said Mayor Tommy Roberts. "There will be $20 million to $25 million in annual wages lost in this community. That's a significant blow to an economy that's already struggling."
Roberts added that the EPA's haze reduction requirements are based on visibility issues not on health concerns.
"My position is the original (state plan) provided the best result for Farmington and San Juan County in maintaining jobs at the mine and at the (power) plant," he said.
That plan would have called for installing the selective non-catalytic technology, the cheaper option, on all four of the plant's units, which all would remain in operation.
And Sandel says the revised state plan could bring another blow to the community.
"Through the (state implementation plan), the state government and the EPA have let the power companies off the hook," he said. "What the (plan) does is allow them to abandon the area that's been their mainstay for decades."
Councilor Dan Darnell said he agrees that the revised state plan will be detrimental to the community, but added that he sees another way forward.
Finding another solution like partnering with PNM to build a larger gas-fired power plant could be beneficial, he said.
"I'll be vehemently trying to get a mark through on that one," Darnell said. "I want to change some of the (resolution's) language instead of just saying we oppose (the plan)."