A new report from The University of New Mexico and PSE Healthy Energy examines which communities in New Mexico are most impacted by pollution from large facilities.

"Climate, Health, and Equity Implications of Large Facility Pollution Sources in New Mexico"

The report, “Climate, Health, and Equity Implications of Large Facility Pollution Sources in New Mexico,” determined that facilities like power plants, gas processing plants and compressor stations, mines, and other stationary facilities contribute approximately one quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and many of the communities most impacted are lower-income and have high populations of people of color. 

Analysis of 189 large stationary sources of pollution revealed the facilities contributed approximately 25% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. The same sources also release large quantities of health-damaging pollutants including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and air toxics. Those pollutants can cause serious health complications, premature deaths and adverse birth outcomes.

“New Mexico has enacted a nation-leading clean energy mandate and recently established strong oil and gas rules, but there’s more that needs to be done when it comes to addressing climate pollution from large facilities,” said Gabriel Pacyniak, co-author of the report and associate professor at the UNM School of Law. 

A 2019 executive order from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham established a goal to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2005 levels. According to the report, however, the state’s existing climate pollution policies aren’t sufficient to achieve this scale of reductions from all large facilities. Researchers sought to identify where the state’s large facility emissions come from and what pollutants these facilities generate.

Researchers observed that lower-income communities were more frequently exposed to the pollutants, and many facilities were located in communities with an above-average percentage of people of color. Both of these populations are more vulnerable to  negative health impacts of air pollution.

“This report underscores that many Native, Latino, Black, and low-income communities bear substantial pollution burdens,” Shannon Sanchez-Youngman, co-author of the report and assistant professor at the UNM College of Population Health, said. “Itʼs crucial that these communities have a meaningful opportunity to participate in policy making processes.” 

Large Stationary Source Emitters and People of Color Percentile

Four areas were identified as large stationary source clusters: 

  • San Juan Basin, which has 65 large facilities and a high population of Native American residents.

  • Permian Basin, which has 69 facilities, including 53 in the oil and gas sector.

  • The Albuquerque metropolitan area, which has the largest population in the state and 15 large stationary pollution sources.

  • Las Cruces and Dona Aña County, which has nine large stationary sources, with three located in the Sunland Park community.

Power plants made up 68% of large stationary source climate pollution emissions in 2019, and oil and gas facilities made up 23% of emissions during the same year. However, the report noted that after accounting for subsequent power plant retirements, that oil and gas sources were the largest source of conventional, health-damaging air pollutant emissions. Moreover, emissions from oil and gas sources have likely increased in recent years as oil production has increased.

The report was co-authored by Pacyniak, Sanchez-Youngman, Angélica Ruiz, an environmental health analyst at PSE Healthy Energy, and Elena Krieger, the director of research at PSE Healthy Energy.

Pacyniak hopes the new information can help lawmakers make informed policy choices to improve public health and equity.

“Creating climate policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from these sources provides a real opportunity to both achieve climate goals and provide public health benefits, but to do that, policies have to be designed with public health in mind,” Pacyniak said. “That means we have to prioritize policies that will achieve pollution cuts from facilities in communities with highest pollution burdens.”

The report made several recommendations including requiring large stationary facilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mandating the inclusion of impacted communities in advisory groups, and the creation of a more robust database or mapping tool to help fill gaps in emissions and health-damaging air pollutants data.

The report supports UNM’s Just Transition Grand Challenge initiative, an interdisciplinary team working to support and ensure solutions to climate change that are equitable to disadvantaged groups and create economic opportunity for workers in the fossil fuel industry.

PSE Healthy Energy is a nonprofit research institute dedicated to supplying evidence-based health and sustainability information at the intersection of energy science and policy.

The New Mexico non-profit Center for Civic Policy served as the fiscal sponsor and advisor of the report, and the report was funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.