New Mexico, Groups Ask EPA for Help with Texas

New Mexico Environment Secretary Ron Curry sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator requesting assistance with the state of Texas' failure to properly implement a program that protects air quality and has a direct impact on New Mexico.

The Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club submitted a petition to EPA requesting it take action in addressing Texas' failure to properly implement the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program under the Clean Air Act. The department recently voiced concerns about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's (TCEQ) failure to address PSD requirements for the air quality permit for the Asarco Inc. Copper Smelter in El Paso.

"EPA should ensure that new facilities in Texas – including power plants and other sources that emit pollutants into the air – will comply with federal requirements to protect the health of residents and the environment in New Mexico," Curry said. "We want to know that, in the event the Asarco Inc. smelter reopens, the proper controls are in place to protect air quality in New Mexico."

TCEQ in February granted an air quality permit for the Asarco smelter. The department's interest in Texas's PSD program originated with the state's concern over the proposed re-start of the Asarco smelter, a facility that historically has caused severe environmental degradation in the Sunland Park, N.M. area.

The state has long objected to the Texas agency's failure to analyze whether PSD requirements are applicable due to the extended shut-down of the facility, the letter states. "In that regard, we greatly appreciate the letter of April 9, 2008, from EPA Region 6 raising this issue to TCEQ. However, as the information presented in the petition clearly indicates, even if the TCEQ determines a PSD permit is required, there is little basis for confidence that the federal requirements of the PSD program will actually be met."

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