By Chuck Slothower
Environmental groups on Tuesday filed a motion to intervene in a case challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling that San Juan Generating Station must install new pollution control technology.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver approved the motion to intervene, so the environmental groups will be able to present their position to the court.
In Tuesday’s decision, the Navajo group Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Durango, Colo.-based San Juan Citizens Alliance, the National Parks Conservation Association, New Energy Economy and the Sierra Club won the right to participate in the case.
“Defending EPA’s ability to implement clean air rules will set the stage for nationwide action to reduce dangerous air pollution from antiquated, inefficient coal plants,” Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, climate and energy program director at Western Environmental Law Center, said in a prepared statement.
Public Service Company of New Mexico, which operates the coal-fired power plant west of Farmington, did not oppose the groups’ participation in the case.
“It’s clearly an important case, and there’s room at the table for all voices,” PNM spokesman Don Brown said. “Their opinion will be heard, as well as ours.”
PNM set the case in motion by appealing the EPA’s order that the plant must install pricey selective catalytic reduction technology in order to cut pollution.
The federal agency says the technology would cut the plant’s emissions of nitrogen oxides by 83 percent.
PNM estimates that installing the technology would cost more than $750 million and call into question the plant’s long-term viability. The EPA counters with its own estimate that the requirements will cost only about $229 million.
PNM instead wants to install cheaper noncatalytic reduction technology, a move rejected by the EPA and criticized by environmental groups.
The EPA issued its ruling in August after receiving more than 13,000 public comments, many from San Juan County elected officials, business groups and residents.
The New Mexico Environment Department supported the cheaper plan preferred by PNM, but the EPA rejected it as inadequate.
San Juan Generating Station, built beginning in 1973, remains a major employer and source of electricity for the Southwest. It employs about 400 workers. The adjacent San Juan Mine, which feeds the plant, employs another 500.
Located 15 miles west of Farmington, San Juan produces up to 1,800 megawatts of electricity. PNM, a major utility based in Albuquerque, owns the largest portion of the plant and operates on behalf of eight smaller owners.