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Updated: Myths & Facts: PNM’s Replacement Power Plan for the San Juan Generating Station

By December 14, 2015September 29th, 2022Climate & Energy

Myth: There is no cause for concern about air quality in New Mexico.
A newly released “State of the Air 2015” report put out by the American Lung Association ranks Farmington, the largest city next to San Juan Generating Station (SJGS), 1st for cleanest metropolitan area in the country for 24-hour particle pollution and 2nd cleanest for annual particle pollution out of 220 metropolitan areas.  If SJGS is the largest polluter in New Mexico and Farmington, just 17 miles from SJGS, has some of the cleanest air in the nation — where’s the crises?
Fact: New Mexicans’ health is at risk due to air quality.
Few metropolitan areas in the country fall below EPA’s standards for particle pollution, including areas with several coal plants. Despite others’ attempt to spin the report, American Lung Association’s Janice Nolen said that “using the data to claim SJGS has a clean bill of health is an overstatement.” Particle pollution does not represent as a local pollutant associated with coal plants as it is distributed down wind. It is a real concern, nonetheless, and is only one of a long list of lethal pollutants emitted from smokestacks. The State of the Air report does not cover many pollutants that likely come from a coal-burning power plant, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, or toxic emissions, such as mercury, arsenic, formaldehyde, acid gases, etc. Because of the way particle pollution travels with the wind, SJGS is probably contributing to health burdens far away from its original source.
SJGS is one of America’s largest single sources of harmful air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. The pollution from the San Juan coal plant is known to cause increased rates of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, birth defects and infant mortality. The cost to human health is estimated at $255 million a year, according to the Clean Air Task Force.
When looked at holistically, the State of the Air report says that almost half of the state lives in a county that is impacted by unhealthy air. That’s nearly 900,000 New Mexicans.
San Juan County, where the San Juan Generating Station sits, received a C grade for ozone levels, indicating a real ozone problem. Coal plants contribute to ozone levels in our air and have negative health impacts. Breathing ozone can shorten your life, causes immediate breathing and heart problems and more, according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report.
San Juan County is one of 11 counties covered by the most problematic methane hot spots in the country. Scientists from NASA are studying the 2,500-square-mile cloud to determine how this happened and its impacts on residents. A report published by the NASA researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters concludes that “the source is likely from established gas, coal, and coalbed methane mining and processing.” Indeed, the hot spot happens to be above New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, the most productive coalbed methane basin in North America.
Myth: SJGS is the most economical source of electric power generation in New Mexico.
Fact: The costs of coal use outweigh its benefits.
According to Mythopedia, a study published in the August 2011 edition of American Economic Review concluded that “coal-fired power plants have air pollution damages larger than their value added” to the economy and coal-fired electric generation is “the largest industrial contributor to external costs.” The study, which was conducted by two economists who are considered centrists, found that coal-fired electric power generation’s “gross external damages” (GED) dwarfed those of other industries measured, amounting to $53.4 billion per year (2000 prices).
Likewise, authors of a 2011 report published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences “estimate[d] that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually” in costs related to health and environmental effects. The report continued:
Accounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar, and other forms of non-fossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive.
Conservation Voters New Mexico is a statewide nonpartisan, nonprofit organization connecting the people of New Mexico to their political power to protect our air, land, and water for a healthy Land of Enchantment. We do this by mobilizing voters, helping candidates win elections, holding elected officials accountable, and advancing responsible public policies.