Ritter, Suthers set aside partisanship to fight air pollution

The only things missing from the ozone-busting tag team of Gov. Bill Ritter and Attorney General John Suthers are Mexican wrestling masks to completely shield their partisan identities.

The state’s chief executive and chief lawyer have teamed up to fight the belching coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant and the planned Desert Rock plant located just over the state’s southwestern border with New Mexico.

According to a press release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, the dynamic duo is taking two tacks — push the Environmental Protection Agency to require stronger emission controls on the Four Corners Power Plant on Navajo Nation lands near Farmington, N.M., and halt an operations permit for the nearby Desert Rock Power Plant.

Says CDPHE: “The Four Corners Power Plant is the largest single nitrogen oxide source in the nation, emitting more than 40,000 tons of the ozone-causing pollution annually.”

Our colleagues at the New Mexico Independent get to the real crux of the problem with the so-called “clean coal” Desert Rock project:

Mary Yuhl, Air Quality Bureau Chief at the NM Environment Department, though, told the Independent the primary problem in the Four Corners region isn’t sulfur dioxide, it’s ozone, which the company’s mitigation plans don’t address.

It’s the ozone levels in the region, she said, that are near the maximum when it comes to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard.

Colorado officials are concerned that the northwestern New Mexico power plants, those in operation and planned, will continue to violate EPA ozone and mercury emission limits that affect our own state’s clean air standards — violations that can come with hefty fines.

In several stories on the Desert Rock EPA permit saga reported by the New Mexico Independent, the health-threatening bottom line for Colorado becomes apparent:

In ‘econ-o-speak,’ an externality is an external cost or benefit that is not reflected in the market price. Electricity generation from coal-powered power plants is a perfect example of a negative externality; the cost of generating electricity does not reflect the health and environmental impacts that arise from using coal. Thus, these costs are ignored by producers.

On the regional level, coal use contributes to acid rain. Where the acid rain occurs is highly dependent on wind and weather patterns. At the local level, coal use can impact communities and ecosytems through increased smog and mercury levels. Thus, when we consume energy from these sources, the external costs can impact very different communities.