EPA is considering tightening regulations on smog levels

James Fenton
The Daily Times

The proposed rule change would mean San Juan County would have to reduce emissions — mostly generated by utilities, industry and urban areas — to meet the new standards if they are adopted later this year.

The Four Corners area is meeting the current air quality regulations for ozone, but that would change under the proposed regulations.

From 2011 to 2013, ground-level ozone concentrations in San Juan County have registered at 71 parts per billion, just under the current threshold of 75 ppb.

A decision on whether to reduce the current ozone threshold is expected to be issued on Oct. 1. Until then, the environmental agency will consider reducing current threshold levels within a range of 65 ppb or 70 ppb as it reviews the 275,129 comments it received on air pollution during the roughly three-month public input period, which ended March 17.

The EPA held three public hearings on the standards this year.

“We’re going through those comments and (expect to) issue a final decision this fall,” said Enesta Jones, an EPA spokeswoman.

Jones said that the review was part of a larger annual review that looks at a variety of factors impacting air quality.

“It’s based on The Clean air act and national air quality standards (that) we look at every year to see if they need to be updated or changed,” Jones said.

Since January, the agency has held three public hearings on possible tightening of air quality standards in Washington D.C.; Sacramento, Calif., and Arlington, Texas.

The hearings allowed input on a proposal that could lower the threshold as far as 60 ppb.

The agency said that its estimates suggest that the benefits of meeting the proposed standards will significantly outweigh the costs. Preventing asthma and heart attacks, missed school days, premature deaths, and other health problems, were cited as reasons for lowering the threshold.

But Wally Drangmeister, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association, said that the costs to multiple industries in the state would take a sizable hit if the rules were put into place. “We submitted formal comment (during the public hearing period) that says basically that it’s just an economic disaster for New Mexico,” Drangmeister said. “If the rules go through, it would be very damaging economically.”

Drangmeister said that 9,800 jobs could be on the line and state revenue lost as a result of tightening the standards, which he said would achieve very little at a very high cost to the state economy.

“The cost for New Mexico, the oil and gas industry, of course, would be damaging. It would also really hit hard on the utility industry,” he said. “We think the proposed standards are extremely disproportionate in cost for something that represents such a meager amount of air quality improvement. And it covers all of the economic drivers of the state. Every industry in every corner of the state is going to have to be subject to increased regulation. It would be incredibly damaging.”

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.