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Regulators: Four Corners air pollution could exceed standards

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DURANGO, Colo. ” Coal-fired power plants and other pollution sources in the Four Corners area could boost smog levels past federal limits in New Mexico and southwest Colorado this summer, government officials and environment and health care managers warn.

Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez could exceed federal air-quality standards, said participants at an air-quality forum at Fort Lewis College last week.

“Very serious air-quality issues need to be addressed, particularly ozone,” said Mary Uhl, air quality division bureau chief at the New Mexico Environment Department.

She said San Juan County in northwest New Mexico may violate federal standards this summer, and southwest Colorado might, too. Uhl added that Mesa Verde might also be out of compliance if it’s a bad summer.

Ground-level ozone, a key component of smog, is created when the sun bakes pollutants such as vehicle exhaust, wildfire smoke and vapors from everything from paint cans to oil and gas wells. The Environmental Protection Agency in March tightened the ozone limit to 75 parts per billion, down from the maximum concentration of 80 to 84 parts per billion.

Even before the new standard, a nine-county area along Colorado’s Front Range, including the Denver area, was declared in violation of the ozone standard. State regulators have imposed more stringent rules on the oil and gas industry to help cut pollution.

Uhl noted that the Four Corners area is home to two coal-fired power plants, with another one proposed, and 19,000 oil and gas wells, with 12,000 more projected over the next 20 years.

Other air-quality problems in the area are haze, mercury and nitrate pollution, Uhl said.

She said the region contains seven Class 1 sites, generally national parks or wilderness areas, where the air quality is supposed to be better than in other areas.


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