Colorado environmental officials are demanding millions more to fight pollution – Advice Eating

Facing the risk of missing another measure of air quality improvement that hovers like a blanket of summer smog, Colorado’s top environmental officials are asking the legislature for $47 million to hire more workers and build better monitoring technology unhealthy air, particularly along the northern Front Range.

Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division expects the Environmental Protection Agency to classify the state as a serious violation of federal air quality laws later this year after the state recorded its worst-ever ozone levels in the summer of 2021, Department Chief Michael Ogletree said in an interview with the Denver Post.

In 2019, the EPA declared Colorado a serious violator and enforced stronger enforcement of clean air controls, and a move to strict classification would further strengthen that enforcement to help manage the state’s worsening ozone problem.

“We’ve heard from people that we’re going to be rated ‘hard’ in the near future,” Ogletree said. “We’re preparing for that.”

Changing its status with the EPA would force lower emissions thresholds for manufacturers and other industrial facilities, meaning more work for the Air Pollution Control Division, which is already working with tight staff, Ogletree said.

The department needs the $47 million required by law to prepare for the incoming workload, and the larger budget would help establish more programs to control greenhouse gases and other emissions that are degrading the Front Range’s air quality and health harm people.

A stricter classification would also affect the state’s oil and gas industry.

Gov. Jared Polis asked for the money in the budget he was proposing to lawmakers.

As the population of the Front Range grows, so does the number of gas-powered cars and trucks on the roads. These vehicles are the #1 source of nitrogen oxide emissions, a major contributor to the region’s ozone problem. Emissions from power plants and oil and gas wells are contributing to the release of volatile organic compounds into the air, while larger and more frequent wildfires in the West are also adding to the problem.

In the summer of 2021, ozone levels at all 16 state monitoring stations exceeded 78 parts per billion, above the federal health standard of 70 ppb. And scientists predict the Front Range’s air quality will continue to deteriorate unless immediate action is taken.

The governor is also working with Democrats to pass more legislation that would address deteriorating air quality. Several bills are pending this year that would spend nearly $125 million to buy a fleet of electric school buses, replace old diesel trucks with newer ones that produce less harmful emissions, make electric bikes more accessible and, in the worst of summer, free rides public transport to allow ozone days.

The state has already enacted new laws and regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. But many of these things take years to make an impact, and the Polis government hopes this year’s demands will have a more immediate impact, said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“What’s probably hard for the public to understand is that we’ve had so much to do with these laws and regulations over the past few years, but the state has yet to see the full benefit of these measures,” Hunsaker Ryan said.

The Air Pollution Control Division operates under a permitting system that was created in the 1990s, and complex air permit applications are still completed on paper, she and Ogletree said. They want to convert everything into a digital format and create online dashboards where people can check the state’s various levels of pollution in near real time.

“We can provide transparency to the community and anyone interested,” said Hunsaker Ryan.

The department has 185 employees, and if the budget request were approved, it would pay for an additional 106 full-time positions, Ogletree said.

One reason the Polis government wants a huge cash injection for its air pollution department is to change the way the department is funded. The department is financially supported by fees collected by industry, and in the past the department has had to ask lawmakers to increase fees, Hunsaker Ryan said.

“It was always a difficult thing and it just didn’t happen,” she said. “Politically, it was difficult to go to the legislature and get industry fee increases.”

Leave a Comment