FARMINGTON — As a number of counties in New Mexico are starting to reach new ozone limits set by federal regulators, the state is working on plans to address pollution levels.
The state Environment Department held a meeting in Farmington earlier this week to talk about drafting an attainment plan for ozone, which can aggravate asthma and contribute to early deaths from respiratory disease when it’s at ground level. Ozone is the main component of smog, and it’s created from pollution emitted by vehicles, industries, solvents and other sources.
Other meetings on the issue are planned in Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Carlsbad.
Robert Spillers, an environmental analyst with the state, said one reason counties are now having ozone readings close to or exceeding federal standards is because they were lowered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 to 70 parts per billion from 75 parts per billion.
According to the Daily Times in Farmington, a monitor near Navajo Lake in San Juan County has met the ozone limit of 70 parts per billion set by the EPA. San Juan County is one of seven New Mexico counties that meets or exceeds 95 percent of the national ambient air quality standard for ozone set by the EPA. The others are Eddy, Lea, Doña Ana, Rio Arriba, Sandoval and Valencia counties.
None of the counties exceed the previous 75 parts per billion standard, state officials said.
Spillers said this is the first time he is aware the state has had to draft ozone attainment plans.
Right now, any measures taken to lower ozone levels will be voluntary. But areas that do not meet attainment standards by a set date can face sanctions, including the loss of grant funding.
State officials are unaware of any part of the state that has ever faced sanctions for exceeding ozone standards.
Some people who attended the meeting in Farmington on Monday were concerned that policies to reduce ozone could harm the oil and gas industry and lead to job losses.
State Air Quality Bureau Chief Elizabeth Kuehn said economic impacts will be considered while developing the plan.
Others at the meeting talked about health effects of ozone. Aztec Mayor Victor Snover said breathing problems are not uncommon in San Juan County.
“If we’re not interested in improving the air for our own children and our grandchildren, what are we doing here and why are we even bothering?” he asked. “That should be the goal.”
Officials plan to have draft ozone attainment initiative plans available for public comment next year. The state Environmental Review Board ultimately will approve the plans.