NM environment secretary: Unclear when EPA will crack down on Permian Basin air pollution

By: - December 19, 2023 4:30 am

An oil pumpjack casts a shadow on a wall as it pulls oil from the Permian Basin oil field on March 14, 2022. (Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Earlier this year, New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney said the Environmental Protection Agency would declare parts of the Permian Basin in New Mexico and Texas an Ozone Nonattainment Area by the end of the year.

The EPA began the process of cracking down on the area for violating standards of the Clean Air Act last year. However, as 2023 comes to a close, the EPA still hasn’t made its move.

Kenney said to redesignate the area nonattainment, the EPA uses “heavy duty” models that calculate air quality and make projections using data the state collects. He said they’re in that modeling effort now, “checking [and] triple checking it,” and have been for a while.

“And we are waiting on the edge of our seat to see what they’re going to do.”

He said the process would begin with the federal agency sending a letter to the governors of New Mexico and Texas.

“I have no indication that that’s being drafted by the end of the year,” he told KUNM. “But even though EPA is a solid, good partner, they might not share that with myself or my colleagues in Texas until the eleventh hour.

The redesignation would ramp up permitting and monitoring requirements. Kenney said his air program would need about $2 million more to meet the need and his budget request doesn’t cover the full amount. That’s because it’s focused on increasing staff salaries instead.

Kenney said that, without that morale boost for his under-compensated employees, “it’s an unfair question to even go to those folks and ask them, ‘Can you do more?’”

He said the department would instead have to quickly raise fees when the redesignation comes down to cover the costs.

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Nash Jones, KUNM News
Nash Jones, KUNM News

Nash Jones (they/them) grew up in Albuquerque and returned home in 2017 after 11 years away living in Portland, OR, and Oakland, CA. Storytelling and community education have consistently been at the core of Nash’s varied career and are, in part, what brought them to KUNM, first as a volunteer host with Spoken Word Hour and NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, then as a staff member in the KUNM newsroom, hosting Morning Edition (2018-2021) and reporting. Nash currently hosts NPR's All Things Considered and continues to report for KUNM.