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PNM’s Plan for Plant Does Little To Help Environment

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Over the past year, Public Service Company of New Mexico has criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s work in New Mexico, claiming that the EPA’s plan to reduce nitrous-oxide emissions and protect New Mexico’s environment would cost much more than needed, would raise electricity rates the equivalent of one monthly electricity bill each year and would hurt New Mexico’s low-income customers.

The Journal endorsed this view in an editorial on March 8: “State Coal Plant Plan Makes Long-Term Sense.” … There are some facts missing from the storyline.

First is that PNM’s own rate increases in the last few years, on behalf of its shareholders, have increased electric rates the equivalent of five monthly electric bills. No mention by PNM of low-income customers in that regard.

Second is that the “state” plan, developed by Gov. Susana Martinez at PNM’s urging, and the one that PNM and the Journal claim costs much less than the EPA’s, would do little to protect the environment. That PNM-endorsed plan would reduce NOx emissions from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station by a fraction of the amount accomplished by the EPA’s controls. And the EPA controls are cheaper per ton of reduced NOx than the PNM alternative.

PNM’s regulatory books show that it plans to operate its nearly 40-year-old coal plant until 2053. While we, and the Journal according to its March 8 editorial, would much prefer that PNM replace its old and dirty generators with clean and renewable alternatives, if the plant is going to continue to operate as PNM’s plans indicate, it needs the best emission controls available. That’s because aside from impairing the visibility of our beautiful western parks and landscapes, NOx emissions also have very severe health impacts.

NOx exposure causes both airway inflammation in healthy people and increased respiratory distress in people with asthma. This in turn results in increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions. NOx also reacts with ammonia, moisture and other compounds to form small particles. These small particles penetrate deep into the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease – again leading to both increased hospital admissions and premature deaths.

So, we appreciate the EPA’s and President Obama’s willingness to stand up to industries that pollute our air, cloud our landscapes and jeopardize our health.

Economic development does not depend on allowing industries to poison our atmosphere. A recent poll of New Mexico voters indicates that 70 percent believe that increased use of clean energy will create jobs. We can have both a clean environment and a thriving economy – and we are grateful that the EPA and the president are working toward that end.

The opinions in this op-ed have been endorsed by 20 environmental, health and Native American organizations in New Mexico.

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