Colorado’s Air Pollution Program Broken and Adrift

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Wednesday, November 8, 2023
Chandra Rosenthal (303)898-0798 

Colorado’s Air Pollution Program Broken and Adrift

State’s Air Quality Worsens While Cosmetic Changes Ignore Core Problems


Denver, CO — Even as Colorado has reached the extreme status of “severe non-attainment” with federal air quality standards, the State of Colorado continues to issue hundreds of air pollution permits to polluting industries that push Colorado further out of compliance, according to testimony delivered today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) at the Legislative Interim Committee on Ozone Air Quality. Ignoring its own staff experts, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) refuses to fix permits that are out of compliance or to deny issuance of new permits that add to the already unhealthy levels of ozone choking Colorado’s Front Range.

In 2021, CDPHE’s entire air modeling unit staff, represented by PEER, called upon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to intervene to halt illegal permitting practices. The whistleblowers offered 11 examples illustrating the types of problems they witnessed. Both the Colorado Attorney General and the EPA confirmed their charges and asked CDPHE to fix the problems. More than two years later, however, CDPHE has –

    • Yet to take final action against those11 illegal permits;
    • Still not addressed hundreds of other permits with the same problems; and
    • Failed to evaluate cumulative impacts during the permitting process.

“Colorado operates its air pollution policies in defiance of common sense” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal. Ms. Rosenthal pointed out that Colorado issues thousands of minor permits annually and almost no major permits. Given the large scale projects undertaken by industry in Colorado it strains credibility that almost no major source permits would need to be issued. “By failing to do modeling for compliance on minor permits, Colorado’s air quality is being subjected to the proverbial death of a thousand ‘minor’ cuts.”

The PEER testimony also pointed out that a recent CDPHE ‘interim report’ issued in response to the EPA recommendations fails to address issues such as cumulative impacts, particulate matter emissions, and violations of 1-hour nitrogen dioxide standards. She also offered a critique of the CDPHE Report responding to Governor Polis’ July 2022 request for more information on cumulative impacts from July 2022. In her testimony, Ms. Rosenthal proposed solutions to these and related issues for the legislature to consider.

The committee requested the input of the whistleblowers. Ms. Rosenthal was testifying today in place of one of the CDPHE whistleblowers who was told by CDPHE management that his presentation had non-public information in it that he was not allowed to make public.

“CDPHE is playing a game of hide the ball,” added Rosenthal, noting that it remains unclear what “nonpublic” information might have been revealed or what negative consequence from such a disclosure might be. “Public servants should be able to communicate directly with their true employers – the public – especially about the air we breathe every day in Colorado.”


Read the PEER testimony

Revisit EPA validating whistleblowers’ charges

See PEER’s complaint to EPA on the 11 illegal permits

View CDPHE’s latest report to the Governor

Compare PEER’s critique of CDPHE’s report

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