US power plant agrees to cut dangerous air pollution

Thousands of tonnes of air pollution linked to serious health problems and haze across the Colorado Plateau will no longer be dumped into Four Corner's skies following an agreement reached by the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club and Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM).

The agreement resolves a lawsuit brought against the San Juan power plant three years ago under the enforcement authority granted to citizens under the Clean Air Act, which alleged that the plant was violating its air quality permit.

Operated by PNM, San Juan is a 1,600-MW coal fired power plant that spewed more than 14,400 tonnes of sulphur dioxide, 25,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxide and 750 pounds of highly toxic mercury into the region's air.

Last year, PNM admitted out of court that it had violated the opacity limit at San Juan 42,008 times and agreed to negotiate a settlement with the other two organisations to resolve the case.

"New Mexico has shown once again that we are a national leader in clean energy," Governor Bill Richardson stated. "This historic agreement will take more than 16,000 tonnes of pollution out of our air, which is the equivalent to removing half a million cars from New Mexico's roads."

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

  • Additional pollution control equipment to reduce sulphur dioxide by several thousand tonnes at the plant
  • The installation of state-of-the-art "low NOx burners" to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by over 10,000 tonnes
  • The installation of "baghouses" (giant vacuum bags)
  • The installation of activated carbon pollution control equipment to reduce mercury by around 80%

    "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," associate director of the Grand Canyon Trust Rick Moore said.

    "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 that could have taken years to resolve."

    By Jane Kettle

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