EDITORIAL: Disperse Haze Dispute Before Money Is Spent
Nov 11, 2012 (Menafn - Albuquerque Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Bureaucratic inertia is about to send the state's biggest electric utility down the wrong path -- one that will significantly raise electric bills for New Mexico consumers. And that's unfortunate, because there is a better path for both the environment and the pocketbooks of financially stressed New Mexicans.
Hovering over the utility landscape is an unresolved dispute about how to reduce haze over national monuments and wilderness areas in the Four Corners. At stake is what kind of pollution control technology will be used and at what cost to ratepayers.
Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule to reduce the haze. It gave Public Service Company of New Mexico and the San Juan Generating Plant's co-owners five years to retrofit the plant with selective catalytic reduction technology. The EPA contends it would cost about 345 million, but PNM pegs the cost at between 824 million to 910 million based on bids they have received.
Also last year, the state Environmental Improvement Board adopted an alternative pollution control plan that would cost 77 million and achieve similar results. But the EPA rejected the cheaper technology and PNM and the state appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which might not rule for months.
The risk of increased costs to ratepayers isn't hypothetical. PNM estimates the EPA ordered fix will raise annual electric bills for the typical New Mexico customer by at least 82 -- and that doesn't include other rate increases sure to be on the horizon.
In early October, the state Environment Department offered up a compromise that would require the utility to close two of the plant's four coal-burning units by 2017, equip the others with the less-expensive pollution control equipment and build a natural gas power-generation unit. There's no price tag on that yet, but the state says it will be significantly less expensive than what the EPA wants.
The compromise got favorable responses from PNM, the Navajo Nation, some San Juan County lawmakers, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, an advocacy group for low-income residents and at least one environmental group. However, a coalition of environmentalists including the Sierra Club, which is waging a war to eliminate coal power plants, isn't budging from its extreme position to price coal power out of existence.
The EPA is reviewing the compromise proposal, but so far is mum on how it might act and there's no real sign of compromise yet.
Meanwhile, PNM, faced with a September 2016 deadline to have haze-reduction technology in place, is going ahead with a contract to install the more expensive devices.
While PNM does not appear to have a choice, this result would make little sense. Certainly not for New Mexico consumers who ultimately will bear the much higher costs for decades -- when the court may alter the regulation landscape. But it is the direction the EPA is dictating through its inaction.
The proposed compromise is reasonable and palatable to all but the most extreme players. The EPA should recognize that and save all parties the cost of litigating against common sense.
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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