Pawnee Coal Plant Causing Clean Air Act Violations 

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For Immediate Release:  Friday, June 11, 2021
Contact:  Chandra Rosenthal [PEER] (303) 898-0798; Kevin Bell

Pawnee Coal Plant Causing Clean Air Act Violations

State Fails to Control Coal Plant Emissions Endangering Public Health

Denver — The Pawnee coal power plant is not in compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards for sulfur dioxide (SO2), a coalition of environmental groups charge. Independent modeling reveals violations of the Clean Air Act. The coalition is presenting the state with this evidence and formally requests that the coal plant permit be modified.

The coalition consisting of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Colorado Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and four other community groups asked the State of Colorado to address its–

  • Failure to set a permit limit that would control the excessive amounts of SO2 being pumped into Colorado’s air by the Pawnee coal power plant in violation of the Clean Air Act;
  • Incorrect classification of the region as in “attainment” rather than “non-attainment,” which would trigger more stringent emission requirements;
  • Failure to get EPA approval to use a method that underreports Pawnee coal power plant SO2 emissions.

An independent modeler analyzed the Pawnee coal power plant using the CDPHE method of analysis. The only change that the modeler made was replacing the emissions rates that the state used with the actual rates from the EPA Air Market Program. According to the AMPD data, Pawnee’s emissions exceeded the allowable emission rate for a total of 149 hours in 2019 and a total of 200 hours in 2020.

The highest actual emission rate for the year was 583.08 g/s, recorded in February of 2019. This is over four times the allowable emission rate specified by CDPHE. Because of the state’s failure to correctly set the terms of the permit, the state considers the coal plant to meet the permit conditions.

The state should have sought EPA approval and EPA Model Clearinghouse review before deviating from standard protocol. The state can provide no evidence that it took these required steps and there is no evidence of EPA approval. Instead, the state continues to use a method that under-reports the pollution emitted by the Pawnee power plant.

Three current CDPHE air modeling experts came forward and filed a complaint with the Office of Inspector General calling into question the state’s process for permitting.  This week the complaint was amended to include additional information from two former air modeling experts.

“With this new report, the State has no excuse to fail to control pollution at the Pawnee coal power plant.  The Pawnee plant already has control equipment in place that can reduce its emissions,” states Chandra Rosenthal, Director of Rocky Mountain PEER. “The easy fix for the state is to set the permit limit that doesn’t allow violations.”

“President Biden has made clear in his recent Executive Orders that people facing toxic pollution are a top priority. Colorado continues to ignore the health of the communities exposed to air pollution.”  states Ean Tafoya of the Colorado Latino Forum. “We need EPA to step in and force the state to place health and safety first.”

“Fossil Fuel production and climate disasters are already disrupting millions of lives. For far too long BIPOC and frontline communities have been sacrifice zones for the pollution caused by oil and gas companies,” says Amy Gray, the Justice, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Director at 350 Colorado. “That’s why we’re asking the Biden administration to protect and invest in the Black, Indigenous, Brown, and working-class communities that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution and climate disasters.”

“We consistently hear that the state and federal government are committed to clean air,” says Laura Hickernell, Organizing Manager for Mothers Out Front in Colorado. “This is an opportunity to demonstrate this commitment. Let’s make this a livable climate for our children.”


See the Pawnee Modeling Report with multiple Clean Air Act Violations

See the Coalition request to Colorado regulators

See the three whistleblowers EPA Office of Inspector General complaint

See the supplement to the EPA complaint with information from two former employees

See EPA’s data on Pawnee at the Air Market Program

Coalition members
PEER supports current and former public employees who seek a higher standard of environmental ethics and scientific integrity within their agencies. We do this by defending whistleblowers, shining the light on improper or illegal government actions, working to improve laws and regulations, and supporting the work of other organizations.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

The Colorado Latino Forum’s mission is to increase the political, social, and economic strength of Latinas and Latinos in Colorado and focuses on environmental justice issues.

350 Colorado is building the local grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis and transition to a sustainable future.

Colorado Sierra Club’s mission is to protect the earth by educating, empowering and inspiring people to make change.

Mothers Out Front: We build our power as mothers to ensure a livable climate for all children.

Colorado Jewish Climate Action was created to utilize our power as a local Jewish community to combat climate change. Our focus is around increasing energy efficiency, supporting local climate change political initiatives and inspiring others to get involved at the local level.

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