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Editorial: San Juan compromise puts N.M. out in front

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New Mexico’s Environment Department and Public Service Company of New Mexico have pulled a forward-thinking compromise out of what had been a no-compromise situation tying New Mexico to old technology and higher electric rates.

The public, electricity consumers and the state’s largest utility are all the better for it.

The deal struck to reduce haze in the Four Corners region from the San Juan Generating Plant cuts more emissions than the original plan proposed by the feds. In addition to reducing nitrogen oxide as the EPA wanted, it also cuts sulfur oxide, particulate matter, carbon, carbon dioxide, mercury and volatile organic compounds.

It will cost much less than the estimated $824 million to $910 million the original EPA plan would have run, and which would have been passed on to consumers at an estimated $85 annually for the average consumer. Instead, PNM estimates its share for capital improvements will be $400 million to $430 million.

And it will diversify PNM’s energy portfolio, making it more competitive regionally in an environmentally minded marketplace and more nimble as fuel prices fluctuate, while helping the state’s natural gas producers and the state coffers that rely on those sales.

The orginal 2011 EPA order was a reflexive punishment for the Gov. Bill Richardson administration not coming up with a haze-reduction plan in 2007. The compromise is similar to the alternative proposed by the state; in fact it’s identical save for retiring a larger coal-fired unit than originally proposed.

This deal — struck at the behest of Gov. Susana Martinez and in no small part because of her willingness to take the EPA to court — takes short- and long-term views of the environment and the market, retiring two coal-fired plants and converting to natural gas while retrofitting two remaining coal-fired units with the more affordable of two available pollution-control systems. The EPA and Region Six Regional Administrator Ron Curry deserve some praise here for being willing to do something reasonable.

In addition to cutting more kinds of pollution this deal also cuts water use by the plant in half. It diversifies the fuel mix, guaranteeing a more reliable and affordable energy supply for state consumers. And it protects all jobs at the plant while establishing a PNM-funded $1 million job re-training program.

There are still many “i”s to dot and “t”s to cross, but the stakeholders involved deserve credit for powering through and pulling a meaningful compromise out of an ill-advised and poorly thought out bureaucratic mandate.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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