Colorado fails again to limit ozone air pollution while relaxing rules

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On the same day, environmental groups called on Colorado officials for missing a key EPA deadline to clean up ozone pollution violations widely attributed to driving, the business groups declared victory in weakening the state’s new set of rules to reduce air pollution caused by employee car trips.

The double whammy has not been lost on environmentalists, who took a look at the watered-down state rule proposal and how the Chamber of Commerce was celebrating it and issued stronger warnings .

“As the region misses another ozone reduction deadline and we are stuck in a series of dirty air days, now is not the time to empty the (commuting) rule, and I am disappointed with the position of our state health department, ”said Danny Katz, executive director of the nonprofit activist group CoPIRG. “The smoke detector is sounding. We all need to work together to put out the fire and look clean that every Coloradan deserves. ”

Overall air quality on the Front Range and a subset of ground-level ozone measurements hazardous to human health have improved in recent years, but the EPA has repeatedly lowered the maximum ozone limit. that scientists consider safe. That means Denver and other Front Range counties have violated the lowered boundaries, and Tuesday was another EPA deadline for the area to come into “fulfillment” or face new consequences.

State health and conservation officials have said they now expect the EPA to further downgrade the Front Range to the immediately lower “serious” category from the current level of violations ” serious ”. Lowering the score again will mean local governments must return to the drawing board for regulations that reduce pollution by limiting driving or demanding cleaner fuels. Meeting the standards will also likely mean tighter rules for oil and gas producers who remove chemicals and reducing emissions from a range of industries.

The state’s Air Quality Control Commission is expected to hear proposed new sets of rules for commuting from employees to work in August, and staff from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had previously published plans calling for mandatory reductions in commuting for large employers from 2022. Conservationists wanted stricter enforcement provisions for these rules, but said they were a good start to finally getting down to business. tackle transport-related sources of air pollution and greenhouse gases.

Then the CDPHE released a statement this week saying it had encountered opposition from employers and their associations, and would focus on employer surveys of travel patterns and “ambitious” objectives to reduce the kilometers traveled.

“This new proposal is based on the recognition that lasting and meaningful success will require strong buy-in from employers and employees who are subject to the program, and a pilot phase will facilitate our understanding of the successes and challenges of implementation in the program. real world, ”said the CDPHE. said the statement.

The Colorado Chamber of Commerce praised the lenient new management.

“How Colorado residents get to work shouldn’t be the concern of the state government, and a mandatory approach to reducing employee travel would be excessive, impractical and unfair,” said Katie Wolf, director state government affairs chamber, in a statement. “We appreciate that the committee has taken our comments seriously and will revise its proposal from a mandatory program to a voluntary one.”

Katz of CoPIRG said Denver and the northern Front Range counties in the non-fulfillment zone have failed to contain ozone for years, and that “fossil fuel vehicles” are a key contributor. Tuesday was the last EPA deadline for Colorado to move forward, Katz noted.

The proposed travel rule, dubbed ETRP by the state, “offered a chance to align large employers and expand options for employees to do their jobs without commuting and adding more pollution to our air.” Katz said.

The arguments come as the Front Range cooks under yet another heat wave that has steadily increased the ozone count to dangerous levels. Colorado state monitors on Tuesday reported ozone peaking at 74 parts per billion in the Denver metro area at 2 p.m., a level they called “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

Ground-level ozone is caused by a mixture of volatile organic compounds released from oil and gas and other industries, vehicle emissions and emissions from power plants, and aggravated by the scorching sun that Denver receives most of summer. James Crooks, an epidemiologist and professor at National Jewish Health, told an event with CoPIRG on Tuesday that rising temperatures due to global warming were significantly worsening the ozone mixture.

“We need to make changes in the near future” to ozone-producing activities, Crooks said.

In 2008, the EPA benchmark for ozone was 75 parts per billion. This was lowered in 2015 to 70 parts per billion, and some scientists maintain that the level of health should fall even lower than that.

Colorado has already issued 27 day of action ozone alerts in 2021, worse than last year’s rate, noted Bill Hayes, air quality program coordinator for Boulder County Public Health, during of the CoPIRG event. In recent years, high average ozone readings in the no-hit zone were in the 70s above and below 80, well below EPA targets, Hayes said.

In the first proposal from state air quality staff, Colorado companies located in high-ozone areas with more than 100 on-site employees should limit the number of workers traveling alone by car to 75% of their workforce from 2022 and 60% by 2024. These employers have also reportedly appointed an official transport coordinator and removed parking subsidies, or started charging for currently free parking.

While these rules were specific, immediate and apparently binding, they did not contain implementing provisions. There were reporting and record-keeping requirements, but they also said employers missing targets can file “alternative compliance plans.”

The CDPHE statement said on Tuesday that the draft revised rules “will first focus on the data collection components in order to establish a solid baseline for future policy”.

The target, but not a mandate, according to the CDPHE staff statement, would be “ambitious single-person vehicle driving rates of 60% or less by 2025, to be demonstrated through investigation reports with employers “.

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