Local ozone draws lawsuit

Deteriorating local air quality sparked legal action this week. Two conservation groups filed suit to challenge one of the region’s forgotten polluters – oil and gas compressors.

WildEarth Guardians and Diné CARE (Citizens Against Ruining the Environment) brought the lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management. The litigation charges that the agency has refused to protect public health and curb harmful ozone air pollution in northwestern New Mexico, which is partly tied to emissions from oil and gas drilling.

“With public health at stake, it’s time for the Bureau of Land Management to start being a part of the solution, not the problem,” said Jeremy Nichols with WildEarth Guardians. “Oil and gas drilling shouldn’t come at the expense of clean air or the health of children and families.”

Ozone is the key ingredient in smog and forms when air pollution from smokestacks, oil and gas operations, and tailpipes reacts with sunlight. A 2007 study in San Juan County by the New Mexico Department of Health found an increase in the number of asthma-related hospital visits due to the pollution. Ozone is particularly harmful to young children and people who are active outdoors, and high ozone pollution is especially of concern to those living on the Navajo Nation, according to Diné CARE, an all Navajo organization and one of the groups filing the lawsuit.

“Communities throughout the Four Corners, including our communities on the Navajo Nation, are struggling with harmful air pollution, a legacy of dirty energy development,” said Anna Frazier, of Diné CARE. “We need clean energy solutions that leave a legacy of clean air and healthy children.”

Ozone levels recently climbed dangerously high in San Juan County and exceeded federal health limits. The violation means the largely rural region will be declared a nonattainment area and face Environmental Protection Agency regulation.

Although many sources can contribute to ozone, in northwestern New Mexico oil and gas drilling is a primary culprit. Two key pollutants react to form ozone – volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. Oil and gas drilling operations are the largest source of volatile organic compounds in the region and are second only to the region’s two coal-fired power plants (the San Juan Generating Station and Four Corners Power Plant) in nitrogen oxide emissions. Collectively, oil and gas drilling operations are the largest source of ozone forming pollution in northwestern New Mexico.

The lawsuit challenges the Bureau of Land Management to safeguard clean air throughout northwestern New Mexico. Specifically, it targets the agency’s decision to lease more than 22,000 acres overseen by the Farmington Field Office for oil and gas drilling without requiring any air pollution controls.


National forest visits decline sharply

Visits to national forests have declined dramatically, according to a recently released Forest Service report. The Durango-based Western Slope No-Fee Coalition is pointing the finger at new and increased recreation fees.

The agency report was based on surveys of forest visitors between 2005 and 2007. It showed that only Arizona and New Mexico held even with 2004 visitation. Every other region of the country saw significant declines. Colorado saw a 5 percent drop in national forest visits.

The study is the third since the Forest Service began a survey of forest visitation in 2000. The reports have shown a steady decline, from 214.2 million visitors in 2001 to 204.8 million in 2004, and 178.6 million in 2007.

Western Slope No-Fee Coalition President Kitty Benzar noted that increasingly common fees charged to visitors on national forests are cited as one reason for the falling visitation. “Fees were already driving many families away from public lands, even while times were good,” she said. “The economic crisis we’re facing now will exacerbate a very worrisome trend. As household budgets are cut to the bare bones, visiting a national forest will be just another luxury item that can be done without.”

The end result, Benzar said, is that both rural and urban kids will spend more time indoors because it costs too much to take the family camping or fishing.

Fees for day-use areas, scenic roads, trails and general access to national forests, as well as lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies, were first imposed in 1996, under a program known as Fee Demo. That was repealed in late 2004 and replaced with a permanent fee program known as the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. Since that time, more than 200 additional sites have been put under fees, and existing fees have been raised at more than 700 recreation sites.


Michael Rendon to head SASO

Durangoan and current city councilor Michael Rendon has been tapped as the new executive director of the Sexual Assault Services Organization (SASO). The private, non-profit organization has been providing free, confidential services to sexual assault survivors in the area for 30 years.

“We are really thrilled with the possibilities of having him as director,” said Laura Lewis, SASO board chair

Rendon will be the agency’s sixth executive director since its incorporation, and the first male to hold the position. His past experience includes working as a counselor at the Volunteers of America Community Shelter, a clinical assistant at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, the coordinator of the Environmental Center at Fort Lewis College, and most recently, as a program associate for Ecos Consulting. 

“Our previous director, Dawn Haney, left the organization in a great position to outreach a broad base of people, and (Rendon’s) experience will help SASO really build on her efforts,” said Lewis. 

Rendon commented that he was interested in returning to a human services field where he could do more one-on-one work with individuals. “I’m very excited to bring my skills to an already exceptional organization,” said Rendon. 

Rendon noted that he will continue to serve as a city councilor through the end of his term in April 2011.

Navajo wind farm in the works

A San Diego company is currently exploring the possibility of a wind farm on the western Navajo Nation. Sempra Energy has installed meters on Gray Mountain, near the town of Cameron, to explore the potential for wind generation.

“Gray Mountain is a particularly good site and has some of the best wind resources in Arizona,” Sempra spokesman Hanan Eisenman told theArizona Daily Sun.

Eisenman noted that Sempra is in a purely exploratory phase. However, if the wind farm is feasible, it could be large enough to power 150,000 households.

TheDaily Sun concluded that at least two companies are exploring renewable energy opportunities on the Navajo Nation, while Sithe Global is continuing to press for the Desert Rock Power Plant on reservation land.

– 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