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NM environment secretary says it’s unclear when EPA will crack down on Permian Basin air pollution

An oil field in New Mexico's portion of the Permian Basin in Eddy County.
Blake Thornberry via Flickr
An oil field in New Mexico's portion of the Permian Basin in Eddy County.

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.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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