EPA Validates Colorado Air Whistleblowers’ Charge

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Friday, July 15, 2022
Chandra Rosenthal (303) 898-0798

EPA Validates Colorado Air Whistleblowers’ Charge

State Directed to Fix Illegal Permits and Cease Enabling Pollution Evasions


Denver, CO In a report issued late yesterday, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed air pollution lapses identified by Colorado state air modelers represented by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The whistleblowers had filed a complaint detailing how Colorado’s Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) allows excessive release of deadly pollutants in areas already out of compliance with federal standards.

The EPA report cited “important concerns with the state’s implementation” of air pollution permits risking “harm to air quality and public health air quality.” In their 2021 complaint, the whistleblowers documented problems with 11 permits issued in Colorado. EPA looked at only four permits but concluded that all 11 were plagued with similar legal violations, including:

    • “CDPHE issued permits even though air quality modeling analyses predicted NAAQS [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] violations…”
    • CDPHE policies fail to “ensure compliance” with pollution limits and that are “inconsistent with the Colorado State Implementation Plan” and
    • CDPHE approved the permit for a large facility “into smaller, individual permit actions without a documented supporting basis for treating them as separate permit actions.”

Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal noted, “It is gratifying to see the new EPA send a clear message of reform to the state. EPA agreed with the whistleblowers that the Clean Air Act requires pollution prevention while the CDPHE persists with its unsustainable strategy of merely monitoring pollution rather than preventing it.”

EPA recommended CDPHE take several actions and report back by October 21, including:

    • Correct all 11 permits identified by the whistleblowers;
    • Undertake “additional qualitative or quantitative air quality analyses to demonstrate that the permit conditions comply with the NAAQS”; and
    • Stop splitting up “complex and multi-year projects” to evade pollution limits.

“We appreciate KC Becker recognizing “those who step forward” because it takes a lot of courage” Chandra said, noting that Bradley Rink, whistleblower and air scientist, left the CDPHE in June after 21 years. He felt that he could no longer work in an office where employee expertise is not appreciated.

PEER’s complaint also highlighted that a central official who led CDPHE’s Air Quality Division, Garry Kaufman, was named by the Attorney General, and now EPA, for an apparent conflict of interest. He took official action to benefit his former law client Newmont, the world’s largest gold mining company. Kaufman did not leave, however. Instead, he was reassigned to a newly created position. Recently reassigned again, he now supervises 1/3 of the Air Pollution Control Division. In his new status, Kaufman appears to function as an éminence grise, exercising even more influence. EPA ordered CDPHE to reassess the mine’s flawed permit.

“CDPHE has been aware of every fact in this report for years. While we are happy that EPA validated these damning disclosures, the state has yet to institute meaningful reforms or even fully staff the modeling division,” states Kevin Bell, Staff Counsel at PEER who filed the whistleblower complaint over a year ago. “Colorado’s state government needs to get out of its own way and let its experts do their job.”

Rosenthal notes, “Now that former Colorado Assembly Speaker KC Becker heads the EPA Regional Office and is responsible for overseeing the state’s implantation of the Clean Air Act there seems to be momentum building to clean Colorado’s skies.”


Read the EPA report  

View EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker’s statement  

Look at the whistleblowers’ charges 

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