Colorado’s Air Quality Doomed to Get Worse

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Thursday, May 18, 2023
Chandra Rosenthal (303) 898-0798


Colorado’s Air Quality Doomed to Get Worse

Gutted Reform Bill and New Regs Offer Nothing to Stem Downward Spiral


Denver, CO — Even as Colorado’s Front Range air quality has sunk to the lowest possible level, the state is refusing to adopt any meaningful reforms of its air permitting program, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Although Colorado is in severe non-attainment with federal ozone standards and the Denver-Aurora is the 6th most ozone-polluted city in the country, according to the American Lung Association, the state plans to continue to churn out hundreds more air pollution permits in coming months. These permits will have the same defects as the thousands already issued, leaving the state with no hope of improving its unhealthily dismal air quality.

Two developments this month sealed the state’s dire pollution fate. First, state legislation designed to address the air permitting weaknesses was stripped of all tighter standards and enforcement measures and reduced to a state legislative oversight committee to continue examining issues. The air permitting weaknesses were identified by the entire state modeling staff in Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), all of whom became whistleblowers.

Second, CDPHE issued new guidelines in response to the state Attorney General’s Office and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviews of the process, which both validated the criticisms leveled by the CDPHE whistleblowers. The guidelines –

    • Flatly state that admittedly flawed permits will not be reconsidered nor addressed in any manner and even can be relied on in permits going forward;
    • Provide a mechanism to ensure that only some of the new permits comply with National Ambient Air Quality Standards, meaning that the state may continue to move further out of compliance with each permit it issues; and
    • Fail to consider the cumulative impacts of either new or the thousands of permits it has already issued.

“Colorado’s environmental regulatory agency functions like a permit mill, simply moving all permits forward no matter how flawed and regardless of the public health consequences,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal, who represented the state whistleblowers. “In Colorado, polluters control the permit process. Real reforms are needed before the air quality in Colorado will improve.”

PEER and other environmental advocates are appealing to U.S. EPA to intervene.


Look at remnants of gutted reform bill

Read PEER and Earthjustice comments on new CDPHE guidelines 

See the amicus brief filed by PEER which chronicles the decade of concerns from those inside the agency

Revisit validation of CDPHE whistleblowers’ charges 

 See the Colorado permit tracker and view the thousands of pollution permits the state issues  

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