Colorado environmental officials seek millions more to fight pollution

With the threat of another air quality improvement criterion swirling like a blanket of summer smog, Colorado’s top environmental officials are asking the legislature for $47 million to hire more people and build better technology to monitor unhealthy air, especially along the Northern Front Range.

The Colorado Department of Air Pollution Control expects that later this year the Environmental Protection Agency will classify the state as a flagrant violator of federal air quality laws after the state recorded its worst-ever ozone levels during the summer of 2021, Department Director Michael Ogletree said in an interview. . With the Denver Post.

In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Colorado a serious violator, forcing more enforcement of air pollution controls, and moving to a heavy classification will increase those enforcements to control the state’s worsening ozone problem.

“We’ve heard from people that we will be reclassified to severe in the near future,” Ogletree said. “We are preparing for it.”

Ogletree said the change in her position with the Environmental Protection Agency would lower emissions thresholds for manufacturers and other industrial facilities, which means more work for the Air Pollution Control Division, which is already working with a short staff.

The department needs the required $47 million from the legislature to prepare for the upcoming workload, and a larger budget will help put in place more programs to control greenhouse gases and other emissions that deteriorate front-range air quality and harm people’s health.

The tougher classification will also affect the state’s oil and gas industry.

Governor Jared Polis requested the money in the budget that he proposed to the legislature.

As the front range population increases, so does the number of gasoline cars and trucks on the road. These compounds are the number one source of nitrous oxide emissions, which is a major contributor to the ozone problem in the region. Emissions from power plants and oil and gas production facilities contribute by releasing volatile organic compounds into the air while larger and more frequent wildfires in the West add to the problem.

During the summer of 2021, ozone levels at all 16 of the state’s measuring stations exceeded 78 parts per billion, above the federal health standard of 70 parts per billion. Scientists expect air quality in the Front Range to continue to deteriorate unless immediate action is taken.

The governor is also working with Democrats to put in place more laws that would address the deteriorating air quality. There are multiple bills pending this year that will spend nearly $125 million to purchase a fleet of electric school buses, replace old diesel trucks with new ones that produce fewer harmful emissions, make electric bikes more accessible and allow free public transportation fares to be paid during the worst of summer. Ozone days.

Already, the country has implemented new laws and regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. Many of these things take years to make a difference, and the Polis administration hopes this year’s claims will have an immediate impact, said Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“The thing that’s probably hard for the public to understand is that we’ve had a lot of work in the past few years with these laws and regulations, but the state hasn’t seen the full benefit of these measures yet,” Hunsaker-Ryan said. .

She and Ogletree said the Air Pollution Control Department is running a permit system that was set up in the 1990s and complex air permit applications are still filled out on paper. They want to transfer everything to a digital format and create online dashboards where people can check the various levels of pollution in the state in near real time.

“We can provide transparency to the community and everyone who may be interested,” Hunsaker-Ryan said.

Ogletree said the department employs 185 people and, if the budget request is approved, will pay for 106 additional full-time equivalent jobs.

One of the reasons the Polis administration wants to pump huge money into the air pollution division is a change in how the division is funded. Hunsaker-Ryan said the department is supported financially by industry fees, and in the past the department has had to ask the legislature to raise fees.

“It was always difficult and it didn’t happen,” she said. “Politically speaking, it has been difficult to go to the legislature and raise fees to the industry.”

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