ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- For decades, the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant has been sitting in far northwestern New Mexico, churning out electricity for families across the Southwest and pumping out millions of tons of carbon emissions and other pollutants.
It has been a popular target for environmentalists, but yet it has always been just out of reach for New Mexico regulators because of its location on the Navajo reservation.
Now, California laws prohibiting utilities from investing in most coal-fired power plants along with proposed federal regulations aimed at cracking down on power plant pollution have helped trigger an imminent shift in New Mexico that regulators and environmentalists hope will lead to cleaner air for the entire Four Corners region.
"It's really the best of all possible worlds," said Mary Uhl, the New Mexico Environment Department's air quality bureau chief.
Department officials, industry representatives and members of the environmental community have been abuzz since Monday, when Arizona's largest utility company announced plans to shutter part of the Four Corners Power Plant and seek majority ownership of its remaining two generating units from Southern California Edison.
Arizona Public Service Company said its plan would reduce the plant's environmental footprint, ensure affordable power for its customers and prevent layoffs among a largely Navajo work force.
Aside from preserving jobs and remaining a force in the local community, Uhl said the closure of the plant's three older, less efficient generators would mean reductions in everything from carbon dioxide emissions and mercury to nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides. Carbon emissions alone would be reduced by more than 5 million tons per year, she said.
Emissions from the Four Corners Power Plant and the neighboring coal-fired San Juan Generating Station have resulted in haze issues that stretch as far as Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado to ozone problems and high levels of mercury in fish at nearby Navajo Lake, state officials said.
Officials for both plants maintain that the facilities meet or exceed all state and federal environmental regulations.