New Mexico is working on plans to address ozone pollution as a number of counties are pushing the limit set by federal regulators.
The Daily Times reports that a monitor near Navajo Lake in northwestern New Mexico has met the ozone limit of 70 parts per billion set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
San Juan County is one of seven New Mexico counties that meets or exceeds 95% of the national ambient air quality standard for ozone set by the EPA. The others are Eddy, Lea, Dona Ana, Rio Arriba, Sandoval and Valencia counties.
The state Environment Department recently held a meeting in Farmington to talk about drafting an ozone attainment plan. Other meetings are planned in Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Carlsbad.
Robert Spillers, an environmental analyst with the state, said one reason the counties are now having ozone readings close to or exceeding standards is because the standards were changed.
In 2015, the EPA lowered the maximum threshold from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion. None of the New Mexico counties exceed the previous 75 parts per billion standard.
Spillers said this is the first time he is aware that the state has had to draft ozone attainment plans.
Ground-level ozone can aggravate asthma and contribute to early deaths from respiratory disease. It's the main component of smog, and it's created from pollution emitted by vehicles, industries, solvents and other sources.
Right now any measures taken to lower ozone levels will be voluntary. But if San Juan County goes into non-attainment status, the measures will become mandatory.
Areas that do not meet attainment standards by a set date can face sanctions, including withholding grant funding or highway funds.
State officials are unaware of any part of the state that has ever faced sanctions for exceeding ozone standards.
Some people who attended the Sept. 9 meeting 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. 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 will ultimately approve the plans.