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EPA Proposes Two Major Actions to Improve New Mexico's Environment

Release Date: 12/21/2010
Contact Information: Dave Bary or Joe Hubbard at 214-665-2200 or r6press@epa.gov

(DALLAS – December 21, 2010) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took two major actions that will bring significant environmental benefits to the people of New Mexico. In the first action, EPA announced a $500 million clean up plan for the Molycorp Superfund site near Questa. In the second action, EPA announced a clean air plan which will significantly protect public health and improve visibility by reducing pollution at a San Juan County power plant.

EPA’s first action is the clean up plan, formally known as a Record of Decision (ROD), for the Molycorp, Inc., site. The Superfund site is owned by Chevron Mining Inc. (CMI). The remedy selected by EPA includes the excavation of contaminated soil and waste rocks, interception of water draining from waste rock piles at the mine site, underground mine dewatering and water treatment, covering contaminated material at the tailings facility, and treating ground water at the tailings facility. EPA estimates the clean-up will cost over $500 and could reach $800 million. Chevron Mining Inc. is expected to carry out the clean-up.

The site includes an operational mine and milling facility, a tailing facility and a tailing pipeline running from the mill to the tailing facility. Contaminated material from the Molycorp site includes about 328 million tons of acid-generating waste rock, over 100 million tons of tailing, and acid-rock drainage at the mine and seepage at the tailing facility. The site is near Questa, New Mexico.

EPA’s second action is the Federal Implementation Plan proposed under the Clean Air Act for the San Juan Generating Station power plant which will significantly reduce harmful emissions and improve visibility and respiratory health for the surrounding area. The plant’s operators will be required to install the best pollution-control technology available for this type of facility, which uses four coal-fired generating units. The controls are expected to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by approximately 83 percent. Nitrogen oxides can react with other chemicals to form ozone and small particles, both harmful to public health.

In addition to public health benefits, the reduced nitrogen oxides emissions will also help improve visibility in the area by about 65 percent and decrease by over 80 percent the numbers of days the plant causes noticeable visibility impairment. The Plan would require San Juan Generating Station to install and operate additional controls to reduce nitrogen oxides emissions. This could be achieved through installation of selective catalytic reduction or other similar technology on all four coal-fired generating units at the plant. Selective catalytic reduction is a cost-effective technology and will bring about the greatest improvements. EPA proposes that the plant have three years to add the pollution controls.

EPA is protecting public health and improving scenic visibility under the requirements of the Clean Air Act's Regional Haze program. This program targets some of the oldest pollution sources in the country. The San Juan Generating Station was constructed more than 30 years ago and has not yet updated its pollution control technology to meet current air quality goals. The San Juan Generating Station is the only source in New Mexico covered by this action. Another nearby power plant on Navajo Lands was covered by a different EPA action earlier this year.

Publication of the EPA proposal in the Federal Register begins a 60 day public comment period. Additionally, EPA will hold a public hearing on our proposal in Farmington, New Mexico. The public hearing will be announced at a later date.

Upon publication in the Federal Register, additional information on the proposed rulemaking and opportunities to provide input will be available at http://regulations.gov (docket number EPA-R06-OAR-2010-0846). A copy is immediately available at http://www.epa.gov/region6.

More about activities in EPA Region 6 is available at http://www.epa.gov/region6

EPA audio file is available at http://www.epa.gov/region6/6xa/podcast/dec2010.html

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