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Hotly debated air quality improvement plan is approved

Throughout the week, state leaders and community advocates debated a statewide air quality improvement plan. It was approved late Thursday, but people are skeptical.

DENVER — Throughout the week state leaders and community advocates have been debating a statewide air quality improvement plan. The plan was approved late Thursday to move forward to the state legislature. It should go the EPA sometime in March. 

Michael Ogletree with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the plan is designed to help get Colorado back on track after missing air quality improvement deadlines in 2008 and 2015. 

"We haven't been improving the air quality as fast as the standards have been changing," Ogletree said. 

"I think we do have some of the most protective standards of any states when it comes to oil and gas development," he added. "But a lot of things can impact poor air quality." 

Ogletree pointed to how quickly Colorado's population is growing and the state's geography and weather patterns as contributing factors.

"In the Denver area, with mountains and the way the wind flows through an area, it makes the area prone to the development of ozone," said Ogletree. 

The state hopes this new plan will help Colorado course correct so that it can work towards achieving the 2008 standard by 2027 and make progress toward meeting the more stringent 2015 standards by 2024. 

Earlier in the week, Ogletree said ideas like cutting down on emissions from transportation and new rules for businesses should help. 

"Previously threshold was at 50 tons per year, when it's lowered to 25 tons per year, it will increase the amount of sources that need to have more stringent requirements in their permits," he said. 

This would mean more businesses would have to cut down on their emissions. 

Shere Walker with the Black and Brown Parents United Foundation meets the plan with some skepticism. 

"It's a start," she said. "I'm going to leave it at that." 

On Thursday, she was with a group of moms who have all been living with the fallout of breathing bad air. They have children with asthma and have seen friends and family suffer. 

"We're showing up invited or uninvited," Walker said.

The women said a working solution is hard to find because they've been left out of the conversation for too long when minority communities are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality. 

"We are being invited now, and if not, pull up a chair and sit right by them," Walker said. 

The group made sure to testify about their concerns regarding the state air quality plan this week. 

They would like to see more details on how to transition entire communities into greener lifestyle without bankrupting people. 

"[I'm] Happy to see we are all stepping up and trying to work together. I respect people at the state level that are genuinely trying to make a difference," Walker said. 

Walker would also like to see more outreach to communities, better communication, and more trust. 

"We are community and non-profits taking it on our own to monitor the air. A lot of people in the organizations causing the issue still have all the money," she added. 

CDPHE has previously said that more outreach and better communication in ways that are easy to understand poor air quality and its implications are a priority. 

However, this week the commission in charge of bringing down pollution levels said parts of the plan on drilling and fracking operations are on hold, because the commission's calculations of the industry's oil and gas emissions were way off. 

The state's Air Quality Control Commission said it underestimated emissions from drilling and fracking operations by nearly half.

The commission is going to withdraw that part of their report for now, until they recalculate the emissions. 

The state said it was hoping to move other parts of the plan forward. 

"The calculation don't change the strategy we are looking at," Ogletree said. "It was a miscalculation. We took ownership and removed those parts from the plan to make corrections. The parts of plan left in there still relevant and make meaningful strides." 

In response to the latest version of the plan, Lorena Gonzalez with Conservation Colorado wrote in part: 

"Today the state approved a state implementation plan to address the state’s repeated failure to attain federal 2015 ozone standards. The state's proposed plan to address ozone is completely deficient and will do little to nothing to solve Colorado's ozone crisis. The plan itself admits it will not meet federal ozone standards. Because Colorado continues to miss its deadlines for the 2015 standard, it is projected to be downgraded from “moderate” to “serious” non-attainment in 2024. The plan fails to meaningfully address the largest sources of pollution that creates ozone – the oil and gas sector. Drilling and fracking engines, for example, are a large contributor to our ozone problem but continue to be unregulated by the state. We thank the Air Quality Control Commission for their leadership to chart a course to achieve clean air for Colorado. Although the SIP they passed today was insufficient, they did state a commitment to meaningfully address ozone pollution in 2023 by committing to another rulemaking in 2023 and by adopting the following language:

New SBP language re Stakeholder Process & Emission Reduction Strategies
Consistent with its mandates to expeditiously attain the ozone NMQS, reduce greenhouse gases, and protect disproportionately impacted communities, the Commission expects the Division to work with the Regional Air Quality Council to commence stakeholder processes in 2023 to evaluate ozone reduction strategies, and their benefits and impacts on the Division's other air quality and equity goals, and propose to the Commission for rulemaking those beneficial and cost-effective strategies needed to achieve attainment of the 2008 and 2015 ozone standards. The stakeholder process should evaluate ozone reduction strategies across a broad range of ozone precursor sources, which should include, at a minimum:

  • Prohibitions on gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment sales, and further incentives for the conversion of gas-powered equipment to electric;
  • Additional non-road equipment reduction strategies;·
  • Building and appliance efficiency standards;
  • Residential auto maintenance incentives;
  • Commercial diesel best practices initiatives
  • Advanced Clean Cars II standards;
  • Strengthening the vehicle inspection and maintenance program
  • Mobile Source Credits as part of non-attainment new source review;
  • Additional permanent funding for VMT reducing strategies such as zero fare transit, increased transit services, and bicycle and walking infrastructure;
  • Emission reduction approaches for indirect sources;
  • Additional industrial source emission reduction requirements, such as flaring minimization requirements at applicable sources, episodic and seasonal restrictions on industrial and commercial activities, oil and gas preproduction activities, rules to reduce emissions from gas-fired reciprocating internal combustion engines (RICE) in the oil and as sector, requiring emission offsets of aggregation of wellhead and production facility equipment when permitting oil and gas sector minor sources, and zero-emitting retrofits for all existing pneumatic devices; and any other measures that the Division determines would assist in attainment of the ozone NAAQS
  • In the case of the Advanced Clean Cars II rule, the Commission directs the Division to time its proposal such that the Commission if it chooses may adopt the rules to model year 2027

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