New air standards to help locally

More good news for local lungs arrived recently. Courtesy of a lawsuit, the Environmental Protection Agency will begin limiting exhaust from new, stationary diesel engines. While the news may not sound exciting, the more than 13,000 new natural gas compressors planned for Northern New Mexico would fall under the new requirements. Without emission standards, those compressors would have emitted pollution on par with 3 million cars.

The new standards resolve a lawsuit from the watchdog group Environmental Defense and represent the first-ever national emission standards to limit diesel exhaust from stationary engines. New electrical generators, pumps and other stationary equipment also will be affected.

“Reducing the pollution from diesel exhaust is one of the single most important steps that can be taken to protect human health from harmful air pollution,” said Environmental Defense Senior Scientist Jana Milford.  

EPA data indicates that diesel exhaust is responsible for more than 70 percent of the cancer risk from air pollution in the U.S. Diesel exhaust is also a major source of harmful particulates and ozone-forming nitrogen oxides and has been linked to respiratory problems and premature death. Some 600,000 stationary diesel engines are estimated to be in use nationwide, and the Durango-area has a disproportionately high number of them.

The standards are particularly relevant locally since they apply to new engines and a huge number of new compressors are proposed just across the New Mexico border well within Durango’s airshed.

The Bureau of Land Management has authorized the development of nearly 10,000 new oil and gas wells in the San Juan Basin, nearly doubling the region’s gas development. More than 12,000 new compressors would be associated with that development, resulting in 75,000 tons of air pollution each year. The agency’s approval prompted a lawsuit early in 2004 from a diverse coalition of ranchers, Navajo governments and environmental groups.

Nonetheless, one of those groups, San Juan Citizens Alliance, is happy to see new standards for stationary diesel engines.

“We’re definitely concerned about stationary engines on all of the well-head compressors,” said Dan Randolph, organizer for San Juan Citizens Alliance. “We have been pushing for clean-burn engines for some time.”

Randolph added that the new standards should have positive impacts locally. “It is an issue of particular relevance to the current proposal in the Farmington area,” he said. “Any reduction is great. It’s great to have some limits put on.”

Local wins ‘Book of the Year Award’

A professor at Fort Lewis College was tapped for top honors recently. Kate Niles, a visiting instructor in the writing program, recently won the Editor’s Choice Award for Fiction from ForeWord Magazine, a reviewer of books by independent publishers. Her novel,The Basket Maker, was chosen from more than 500 books to receive this honor.

 “I’m thrilled,” said Niles. “I always felt the book was worthy of an award, and this is a nice vindication of that feeling.”

Niles’ debut novel,The Basket Maker addresses the disturbing and emotionally complex issue of sexual abuse of a child by a parent, and crafts it into an unforgettable and powerful story of humanity and hope. The award was announced at the sixth annual Book Expo America earlier this month in New York City.

The Editor’s Choice prize for nonfiction went toEgyptology: Search for the Tomb of Osiris by Emily Sands, Nick Harris, Helen Ward and Ian Andrew. The book is an artistic and educational work delivered in the form of an archeological scrapbook. Established in 1998, the Book of the Year Awards recognize excellence, spirit, and original voice and vision in the independent press industry.

Niles also was the recipient of a Colorado Council on the Arts Individual Fellowship for 2003. She holds degrees in anthropology, archeology and creative writing. Her book of poems,Geographies of the Heart, was published in 1997, and her poetry, short stories and essays have appeared in literary journals and been broadcast on public radio. Copies ofThe Basket Makerare available at Maria’s Book Shop and the FLC Bookstore.

DHS decides to keep campus open

Durango High School will remain an “open campus,” and students will be allowed to leave at lunch time. District 9-R Superintendent Mary Barter concurred with recommendations from the DHS Open/Closed Campus Task Force and Principal Greg Spradling. But she also cautioned that if “issues of safety off campus, poor attendance, frequent tardiness or ‘ditching’ become of more significant concern at some time in the future, the possibility of closing the campus to some or all students during the lunch period should be revisited.”

Barter announced her decision to the Board of Education last week, wrapping up a 10-month study on the issue.

“It’s worth noting that the task force, which was about evenly divided on the issue at the start, was close to consensus at the end. I am comfortable with the recommendations,” Barter said.

Parents and community members concerned about student safety raised the issue last summer when they submitted a petition of more than 400 names. The petition asked Spradling to study whether the campus should be closed or open. In November, Spradling formed a task force of students, parents, faculty, staff, administrators and community members. The task force held nine work sessions and three community meetings.

In the end, the recommendation was made that the campus should remain open. However, the high school was also encouraged to provide incentives for students to stay on campus at lunch and improve pedestrian and vehicular safety.

West Nile Virus arrives in the area

West Nile Virus has officially landed in La Plata County for 2005. The San Juan Basin Health Department reports that a La Plata County man in his 40s has been diagnosed with West Nile, signaling the beginning of the virus’ activity in Southwestern Colorado this year. As a result the department is strongly encouraging residents and visitors to take precautions.

Joe Fowler, regional epidemiologist commented, “We urge all residents and visitors to exercise precautions and protect themselves from mosquito bites, wherever they may travel.”

Typical symptoms of West Nile fever include: fever, headache, malaise and muscle weakness. Symptoms persist for two to seven days, but may linger for several months.

As in the past two years, the health department again encourages people to reduce exposure to mosquitoes. Their recommendations include limiting outdoor activities during dawn and dusk hours, using insect repellent containing DEET and wearing long sleeves and long pants when outdoors.

– compiled by Will Sands


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows