Colorado Balks at EPA Ozone Reducing Recommendations

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Monday, October 24, 2022
Chandra Rosenthal (303) 898-0798


Colorado Balks at EPA Ozone Reducing Recommendations

State Resists Reforms Identified by Whistleblowers and Confirmed by EPA


Denver, CO — As Colorado slides into “severe nonattainment” with federal ozone standards, the state continues to resist tightening its air pollution permits process and to tolerate major lapses identified by its own air modelers who are represented by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, Colorado is risking even stricter federal sanctions as harmful air pollution levels keep rising.

In a July report, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed complaints by these modelers that the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) allows uncontrolled release of deadly ozone precursors in areas already out of compliance with federal standards. EPA also made several recommendations and asked the state to respond by October 21st.

In that reply filed on the 21st, the state declined to act on many of those recommendations, including –

    • Refusal to correct improper permits. In their 2021 complaint, the CDPHE whistleblowers documented problems with 11 permits issued in the Front Range. EPA looked at only four permits but concluded that these failures applied to all 11, yet the state is declining to act on even those 11 permits. CDPHE makes no mention of the thousands of permits issued over the years with the same failures and continues to resort to the years-old excuse of having no authority to revisit previously approved permits.
    • Continuing with the same pattern of denying wrongdoing and justify its actions with the same years-old excuse that monitoring data show attainment with the NAAQS. CDPHE continues to ignore the fact that the number of existing monitors in the state is very small and that their locations are completely removed from the areas of high emissions, especially the areas of oil and gas activity where most of the emissions and impacts take place. CDPHE uses a poorly designed monitoring network as an excuse to suggest that there are no air quality problems, but offers no steps to improve and expand the network to the most polluted areas.
    • Refusing to take responsibility for the practice of breaking larger projects into smaller ones for the purpose of circumventing the NAAQS compliance requirement and therefore offering no steps to correct this problem. The CDPHE whistleblowers provided several examples of multiple permits issued, sometimes on the same date, to individual sources within the same facility, hiding large cumulative emissions and impacts under the concept that each individual permit has emissions below the threshold. Despite this evidence, CDPHE continues to claim that these actions are only administrative and continues to falsely claim that NAAQS compliance is required for the total emissions of the facility.
    • Continuing to justify previous Division Director Garry Kaufman’s decisions made to benefit his former client and to issue the Cripple Creek & Victor permit despite the many irregularities documented by the CDPHE whistleblowers. CDPHE continues to justify breaking up the project in two, continues to give credibility to modeling results that were tampered with, and continues to use deficient monitoring results to claim that the facility didn’t cause any air quality problems.
    • Offering insufficient steps to ensure that future permits will not contribute further to violations of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The proposed changes that CDPHE has suggested continue to leave the door open to the same abuses of authority and to the same pattern of disregarding air quality and public health; and
    • Ignoring the total cumulative impact of all these permits. Each permit issued makes attainment of ozone standards that much more difficult.

“Colorado still lacks a coherent plan to reduce unhealthful ozone and, in fact, remains on a path to make matters worse,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal, noting the problems identified with the 11 permits presented as examples to EPA also apply to the roughly 2,500 new permits issued each year that all lack air quality compliance assurances. “With each new permit that Colorado awards, its clean air deficit grows deeper and deeper.”

The CDPHE whistleblowers and PEER presented these issues to EPA in the hopes that this federal agency, which oversees and funds much of CDPHE’s work, would consider stronger intervention. Former Colorado Assembly Speaker KC Becker now heads the EPA regional office responsible for supervising and funding the state’s implementation of the Clean Air Act and other federal anti-pollution laws.

“CDPHE acts like an agency completely captured by corporate interests that has lost touch with its public health mission,” added Rosenthal, pointing to the continued influence of Garry Kauffman who was called out by the Attorney General for his conflict of interest in advocating for his former law client Newmont, the world’s largest gold mining company. “We are hopeful that EPA will see through these poor excuses and hold CDPHE accountable. Otherwise, Coloradans can expect worsening ozone.”


Look at CPHE’s reply to EPA

Compare the EPA findings and recommendations

View the whistleblowers’ charges

Revisit the Attorney General’s report on Kauffman

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