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Air quality group talks options with new rules

James Fenton
jfenton@daily-times.com
Eric Kort speaks on April 17 during a public forum on atmospheric methane at San Juan College. Four Corners Air Quality Group, which hosted the forum, also hosted an event Monday in Durango, Colo., to discuss air quality in the Four Corners.

DURANGO, Colo. — About  75 members of the Four Corners Air Quality Group gathered at Fort Lewis College on Monday to discuss air quality measurements and looming federal regulations intended to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants in the Four Corners region.

The meeting was hosted by the Four Corners Air Quality Group, a mix of state and federal officials, industry representatives and members of the general public that formed in 2005 to address ways to improve air quality through regional planning efforts. The group last held a forum in April at San Juan College in Farmington to discuss ongoing efforts this year to pinpoint sources of atmospheric methane in the Four Corners region.

The meeting did not focus on the reported atmospheric methane "hot spot" in the Four Corners region since the results of scientists' ongoing research this year will not be available until spring 2016.

Instead, the meeting focused on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's final draft of the Clean Power Plan, which was released in August as part of President Barack Obama's efforts to address the threat of climate change.

The federal rule sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions from electric generating plants. New Mexico has 10 such plants.

Power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution, said Rob Lawrence with EPA's Region 6, which includes New Mexico, and the proposed Clean Power Plan seeks to reduce emissions by encouraging state participation in proposing plans to meet the new standards by 2030.

Lawrence said fossil fuel-fired power plants — San Juan Generating Station and Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington generate electricity by burning coal from local mines — are by far the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., making up 31 percent of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions.

He said that if a state does not produce its own plan by Sept. 6 and doesn't ask for an extension, the EPA will impose a federal plan.

Rita Bates, planning section chief for the New Mexico Environment Department's Air Quality Bureau, said New Mexico will not wait for a federally imposed plan.

She said the state expects to provide the EPA various compliance options by the Sept. 6 deadline and then request an additional two years to finalize a plan.

Bates said the state is still evaluating the final rule and plans to hold public meetings to hear ideas from as wide a spectrum of the public, industry and other stakeholders as possible by the end of the year. One of those meetings will be held in Farmington in December, but a final date and location for that meeting have yet to be scheduled, Bates said.

"We don't know exactly what we're doing yet," she told people at the meeting. "There are six different options EPA has given us and under those options there are really unlimited sub-options about what you can include in your plan. It's pretty complicated, but we think we're up to the challenge."

For more information on New Mexico's  Clean Power Plan compliance efforts, send an email to NMENV-NMCPP@state.nm.us or call 505-476-4300.

Lawrence said the EPA has proposed some strategies to reduce emissions, which would encourage shifting to cleaner fuels and renewable forms of energy production as well as increasing efficiency.

"We think that it's very achievable," Lawrence said.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.