Federal Action Needed to Cut Colorado Air Pollution   

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For Immediate Release:  Monday, May 10, 2021
Contact:  Chandra Rosenthal (303) 898-0798; Kevin Bell (240) 247-0298,
Kirsten Stade

Federal Action Needed to Cut Colorado Air Pollution

Illegal Cherokee Plant Emission Permit Worsens Environmental Justice Gap

Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency needs to intervene to fix an illegal air pollution permit afflicting one of the most disadvantaged areas in Colorado, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Federal involvement is needed because the state permit agency has been ignoring warnings from its own specialists for years.

PEER is formally asking EPA Administrator Michael Regan to implement his agency’s new emphasis on environmental justice to protect the people of Commerce City, just north of metro Denver. The town is one of the most polluted areas in the country and is occupied by a low-income community of color already facing a disproportionate pollution load.  The focus of PEER’s complaint is illegal permitting of the Xcel Cherokee power station without required air modelling for its emissions.

PEER is forwarding emails from air modelling staff of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) charging that additional reviews are “required by the Clean Air Act and the State Implementation Plan” and because Commerce City “has some of the worst air quality” in the state (in the words of one such email).

“If Administrator Regan is serious about addressing environmental justice problems, he need look no farther than Commerce City and this Cherokee plant,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal.  “EPA has a legal obligation to ensure that Colorado is not shirking its Clean Air Act responsibilities – as the state is clearly doing here.”

Currently, CDPHE is in the process of issuing an operating permit for an oil refinery, the Suncor Refinery, also in Commerce City, without required air pollution modeling.

Protests about illegal air pollution permits from the state’s entire air modelling staff, represented by PEER, are currently being reviewed by both EPA’s Office of Inspector General and the state’s Attorney General.  In the meantime, Colorado’s entire Front Range remains in violation of National Ambient Air Quality Standards set by EPA and has been in noncompliance since 2012, when Cherokee’s permit was issued.

The emails PEER is forwarding with this complaint date back to 2011 and 2012, when the Cherokee permit was being approved. These messages indicate that CDPHE management decisions to forego required modeling are deliberate and longstanding.

“Coloradans, and especially the residents of Commerce City, deserve far better than what they are getting from the state’s pollution control agency,” added Rosenthal.  “After decades of failing to protect this community, we believe that EPA’s intervention will go a long way to restoring a sense that someone in government actually cares what happens to the people of Commerce City.”


Read 5-10-21 PEER letter to EPA

View internal CDPHE emails

See 5-7-21 PEER letter to the CO Attorney General  

Look at growing CDPHE air permit problems

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