See the latest EHS federal and state regulatory updates due to COVID-19

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has begun the initial public outreach efforts for the New Mexico Ozone Attainment Initiative (OAI). The OAI is the NMED's response to several areas in the state nearing the 2015 8-hour primary National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for Ozone (O3). There are two remaining outreach events planned: September 25th in Las Cruces and September 26th in Carlsbad. At the most recent meeting in Santa Fe, the NMED shed some light on the goals of the OAI, shared their projected timeline, and went into some detail regarding their next steps in the process.

Overall, the OAI aims to do the following: (1) protect the attainment/unclassifiable status of all areas in the state; (2) avoid rigorous requirements resulting from a nonattainment designation; and (3) ensure the health and welfare of the residents of the state for future generations. There are a total of seven (7) counties in NM that are currently within 95% of the O3 standard, and these are the target areas of the OAI. These counties include: San Juan, Doña Ana, Eddy, Lea, Rio Arriba, Sandoval and Valencia.

The NMED explained how they planned to implement the OAI and discussed their strategies, which include emission inventories (including minor sources), photochemical modeling and the possibility of additional monitoring. They also mentioned the importance of mandatory and/or voluntary measures as well as robust stakeholder involvement. The meeting in Santa Fe was attended by representatives from industry, environmental interest groups, as well as concerned citizens. Representatives from the NMED, including the current Bureau Chief, noted the importance of all parties working together. It is in all parties' best interest, not just from an environmental and public health standpoint, but also from a regulatory standpoint to avoid a nonattainment designation. Such a designation would undoubtedly complicate and prolong the permitting process while simultaneously resulting in more rigorous regulatory requirements.

The NMED shared their projected timeline for the OAI through Fall/Winter of 2020. While the OAI is currently in the public outreach and education phase, the agency hopes to begin their photochemical modeling during Q4 of 2019. The NMED will be requesting public comments and gathering input in the beginning of 2020, and plans to analyze the input and develop the rules before this time next year. They then propose to have the OAI Plan drafted and released for formal comment by Fall/Winter of 2020 and hope to have the Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) hearing to adopt the proposed plan/rules before 2021.

The NMED ended by discussing their path forward and provided a bit more information on the technical work they will be completing. The proposed photochemical modeling will be used to identify the source categories causing elevated ozone while also predicting the effectiveness of a proposed strategy or control measure(s). The agency is working on developing strategies for pollution reduction and mentioned the Methane Advisory Panel (MAP). The panel is working to develop viable control strategies for methane based on percent reduction, ease of use, technical feasibility and economic evaluation. The NMED does not have the authority to develop regulations for methane and so is effectively using the OAI as a means to reduce methane by regulating volatile organic compounds (VOC), which are known ozone precursors. Although methane itself is not considered a VOC, many VOC streams include methane and so limiting VOC emissions effectively reduces methane.

The agency encouraged interested parties to stay informed by signing up for the OAI Listserv and following the OAI's webpage. For any questions regarding the current status of the OAI or general questions regarding new NMED initiatives, please contact our Trinity Albuquerque office at (505) 266-6611.