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National Parks Are Healthier When We Hold Government Accountable | Commentary

In spite of this sordid history, the process of holding the EPA and New Mexico accountable to the law forced a dialog that produced a unique cleanup blueprint for the facility. This February, the EPA, New Mexico and PNM, which owns the San Juan Generating Station, hammered out a preliminary agreement. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez calls the plan “a reasonable solution that would improve air quality, conserve New Mexico’s precious water resources, avoid an extremely burdensome rate hike on consumers, protect jobs in northwestern New Mexico, transition away from coal and toward New Mexico natural gas.”

Martinez is right to focus on the economic and environmental benefits of cleaning up antiquated coal plants, rather than to invoke divisive rhetoric about “killing the coal industry” as Williams did. New Mexico receives $3.8 billion in revenue — from residents and visitors — from recreational activities such as hiking, biking and camping. Good air quality is essential to sustaining and growing this vital industry. The national parks affected by San Juan’s pollution annually generate a combined total of $922 million in spending.

Beyond the economics, cleaning up coal plants is the right thing for our national parks. Roosevelt, standing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon 100 years ago, appealed to his audience: “I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country — to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is.” He would be proud today of steadfast efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act and restore the wonder that he beheld.

Mark Wenzler is the vice president of Clean Air and Climate Programs for the National Parks Conservation Association.

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