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Local air quality could fall below federal standards
11/26/2008 By: Carole McWilliams
La Plata County officials and concerned residents have been worried for some time about air quality in San Juan County NM, and its potential impacts north of the state line.
Those concerns were bolstered by an air quality monitoring update presented on Nov. 12 by representatives of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.
The presentation was the same day that the Southern Ute Tribe/ State of Colorado joint environmental commission approved an air quality code and permit system that will apply to development within the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.
The monitor update dealt with ozone. County Commissioner Wally White objected that the monitor sites - except for one at the south end of Mesa Verde National Park - don’t also track mercury pollution.
Air quality monitor stations near Bondad and Ignacio are operated by the tribe. One northeast of Bayfield is operated by the US Forest Service. Other stations are in Montezuma County, and San Juan County NM.
“We are in the air-shed of some heavily polluting power plants, so there are other things we are concerned about, not just ozone,” White said.
The focus of the update was a monitoring station below Navajo dam that had surprisingly high ozone readings in October. The monitor has had high readings since it started operating in 2006, but they are usually in the summer.
County administrative assistant Joanne Spina said the update “was prompted by the news of possible non-attainment (of federal air quality standards) in our area.”
The concern is possible spill-over effects if San Juan County NM is designated as a non-attainment area. “We want to stay on top of this and understand what it means for us,” Spina said.
State air quality representative Paul Tourangeau presented the report.
He showed a chart of the highest yearly readings (eight hour averages) since 1990 from the monitor sites in Southwest Colorado and San Juan County NM, and how they relate to federal ozone limits.
The chart showed high readings in the last couple years at Mesa Verde National Park (also Canyonlands in Utah), and at Bloomfield NM.
All were below the current ozone limit of 75 parts per billion, but not by much.
The October readings at Navajo Lake were above all the others, and above the 75 ppb limit. If they turn out to be valid, they will push the three year average high there up to 78, which would be a violation of the Clean Air Act, Tourangeau said.
The October readings were unexpected, he said, and they didn’t track with readings at other area monitor sites. “Ozone is tricky. It’s chemistry that takes place in the air, rather than a primary pollutant” such as tailpipe emissions, he said.
Ozone formation depends on weather and other conditions. “San Juan County NM is likely to be designated non-attainment. It’s uncertain where the final non-attainment boundary will be. The Environmental Protection Agency will decide. It could include some areas of Colorado,” Tourangeau said, but he added, “The monitors would indicate that areas in Colorado are in attainment.”
Not surprisingly he said, “San Juan County is a rich source area.”
The state has to make statewide recommendations in March 2009 on specific non-attainment locations, he said. That will be a public process. San Juan Basin health is the local contact.
Tourangeau indicated New Mexico will go through the same process. The EPA must make its designations by March 2010.
If an area is designated for non-attainment, the state has to create a plan to bring down ozone readings there, he said. Considerations include monitor data, precursor chemicals that can turn into ozone, and the sources of those, also weather, topography, and geology.
Compliance plans will have to include an inventory of sources, modeling, control strategies if necessary, and contingency plans. The plan has to be approved by the state legislature and then the EPA. Then the plan is federally enforceable, equal to federal law.
“The state or EPA can enforce it, and citizens can sue for enforcement,” Tourangeau said.
Major sources have to put on control equipment and offset emissions elsewhere. Reporting and permitting thresholds are lowered. It can include strategies to control new emissions, he said.
States will have from two to seven years to get areas into compliance, with the shorter deadlines for areas just over the limit, Tourangeau said.
Tourangeau showed a graph by county of mobile and stationary sources of nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds, the main components of ozone.
Archuleta County is very low on both. La Plata County is noticeably higher, but far below of Denver County, San Juan County NM, and Weld County.
He said the La Plata County data was based on tallying sources, not on air quality readings, so it doesn’t include blow-in from New Mexico. But the county tally doesn’t include the reservation, where most of the county’s gas processing plants are located.
Southern Ute air quality program manager James Temte said reservation measurements are about the same as for the rest of the county, so the county total would be about double what was shown on the bar graph.
The state agency doesn’t deal with emission sources on the Ute reservations, but they have a good relationship with the Southern Utes, and they are parallel processes, Tourangeau said.
Fran King Brown, a tribal staffer and member of the joint state-tribal environmental commission, said, “We’ve been working together for over 10 years. The state has been involved from day one… Most state meetings are in Denver. We have meetings here quarterly if not monthly. We would love your (county) participation.”
She continued, “We work just like the state commission. There are three state representatives appointed by the governor. You can have a voice in what happens with air quality on the reservation.”
County attorney Sheryl Rogers said, “We have every intent of participating.”
The tribal/ state environmental commission met later that day in the Three Springs commercial area. The monitoring report was presented again, and then commission members discussed a final list of adjustments to the draft code before approving it.
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