Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tribal, Environmental Groups Call for Quick Action to Safeguard Four Corners Region from Dirty Energy Development

Tribal, Environmental Groups Call for Quick Action to Safeguard Four Corners Region from Dirty Energy Development

New Study Shows Air Pollution Reductions from Oil and Gas, Coal Burning Needed to Protect Public Health; Future of Desert Rock in Question

FARMINGTON, N.M. - A new report shows that dirty energy development is the biggest threat to clean air in the Four Corners region, spurring WildEarth Guardians, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, and the San Juan Citizens Alliance to call for quick action to reduce air pollution and safeguard public health.

“This report confirms that dirty energy is taking a dangerous toll on clean air and public health in the Four Corners,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “But more importantly, it confirms that with cleaner energy we can make progress toward keeping communities safe.”

The Air Quality Modeling Study for the Four Corners Region, prepared for the New Mexico Environment Department, shows reducing pollution from oil and gas operations and coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners is the most effective strategy to keep harmful levels of ozone air pollution in check. Ozone, the key ingredient of smog, is a corrosive gas that can trigger asthma attacks, scar lungs, and lead to premature death. It forms when two key pollutants—nitrogen oxides, or NOx, and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, react with sunlight.

“Protecting public health in our medically under-served tribal communities should be prioritized,” said Lori Goodman of Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment. “Tribal members are passing resolutions for clean energy solutions. The New Mexico Environment Department and federal agencies need to act on our serious air quality issues.”

The Four Corners region is on the verge of violating federal health standards that keep children, seniors, and even active adults safe from ozone. If ozone levels escalate at the Navajo Lake ozone monitor in San Juan County, New Mexico, the region will likely violate these standards, triggering more stringent clean air safeguards and federal oversight.

When ozone levels are high in the Four Corners region, the latest study shows that local oil and gas drilling operations and coal-fired power plants are the largest local contributor to the problem. The study sates “local oil and gas and EGU [electric generating units] are the biggest contributors to local ozone episodes.” (See Report at page 5-2). The study reveals that oil and gas drilling operations are the largest source of human-created VOCs, while both oil and gas and the region’s two coal-fired power plants - Four Corners and San Juan - release three and a half times more NOx than the region’s cars and trucks.

“These findings underscore the need for clean energy solutions in the Four Corners,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico Energy Coordinator with the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “And with our communities struggling against mounting air pollution, the time for solutions is now.”

The report also models several scenarios to determine the most effective strategy for combating ozone. The report found that curbing VOC and NOx pollution from oil and gas drilling, together with NOx cuts from coal-fired power plants will achieve “the overall largest” and “the most wide-spread” ozone reductions. (See Report at page 5-3).

These findings support New Mexico Environment Department efforts to cost-effectively reduce NOx and VOC pollution from oil and gas operations in San Juan County and neighboring Rio Arriba County. The Department is developing proposed rules that would reduce emissions from natural gas compressor engines and pneumatic controllers at oil and gas wellsites. The proposed rules are available here.

In addition, the study continues to call into question the future of the Desert Rock coal-fired power plant. The power plant would add more than 2,000 tons of NOx emissions into the air of the Four Corners region.

The latest modeling report is available on the New Mexico Environment Department’s website.

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