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Environment Department proposes rule to reduce emissions

Rule would apply to San Juan County as a result high number of ozone days
Smog envelopes Shiprock in New Mexico. Pollution from coal-fired power plants, oil and gas fields, and vehicles is prompting stricter air-quality standards nationwide from the Environmental Protection Agency and New Mexico Environment Department.

FARMINGTON – The New Mexico Environment Department announced a proposed rule Thursday that would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in counties with high ozone levels, including San Juan County.

The announcement comes weeks after the American Lung Association released the annual State of the Air Report that gave San Juan County a failing grade for air quality.

The annual report released April 21 was compiled with data collected from 2017 to 2019. It is the second consecutive report in which San Juan County was found to have a higher average of high ozone days than the previous cycle, which included 2016 to 2018, and was above the acceptable average of 3.2 days, according to the American Lung Association.

According to the American Lung Association “ozone and particle pollution are the most widespread pollutants – and among the most dangerous.”

The proposed rule would eliminate all exemptions for stripper wells and other facilities previously labeled “low potential to emit,” and would require oil and gas operators to calculate their emissions and check for leaks every month. If there is a leak, the oil and gas operator is required to fix it within 15 days. The rule also requires higher standards for equipment and processes that can emit larger quantities of pollution, such as storage vessels, compressors, turbines, heaters, engines, pneumatic devices, produced water management units, and more, according to the New Mexico Environment Department.

“Today, New Mexicans can breathe easier knowing that present and future generations will have cleaner air,” said New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “This rule will not only hold industry accountable, but will also spur innovation and greener practices in the oil and gas fields. The effect will be equivalent to taking 8 million cars off the road every year.”

The new rule is expected to reduce emissions of ozone precursor pollutants “by nearly 260 million pounds annually and reduce methane emissions by more than 851 million pounds annually.”

Aside from San Juan County, Chaves, Dona Ana, Eddy, Lea, Rio Arriba, Sandoval and Valencia counties will also be required to follow the rule and also have a low grade in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report.

Before taking effect, the new rule must be considered and accepted by the seven-member New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board. A public hearing with public engagement opportunities is expected this fall.