Colorado Could Lead Nation in Fighting Air Pollution, But Isn’t
Colorado’s proposed regional haze plan to improve air quality does not go far enough to reduce the impact of air pollution on public health, national parks, and the environment, according to the group of top environmental advocacy organizations.
The state is in the process of adopting its Phase II of the regional haze plan, as mandated by the Clean Air Act, which is a time-tested, effective program that has resulted in noticeable improvements in national park and ecosystem visibility and air quality. In Colorado, the regional haze rule is intended to protect Class I areas such as Colorado’s Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks, and eight wilderness areas.
Despite the great strides that have been made to-date, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (CAQCC) has proposed a regional haze plan that lacks adequate protections for parks and communities and fails to reduce emissions that would make real progress toward clean air goals.
The National Parks Service stated: “We generally support the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division’s proposed revisions related to the control of oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter emissions; however, there are significant improvements needed such as tightening additional emission limits for several facilities.”
“Colorado communities and our iconic, beloved national parks suffer from haze pollution,” said Tracy Coppola, Colorado senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “The state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets aren’t being met, and people and national parks are continually exposed to nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter because oil refinery, cement, and coal industries are not being held to the standards that Coloradoans deserve. The CAQCC must adopt a strong plan that results in significant emissions reductions as intended by the Clean Air Act. Today, the nation is watching, and we must lead.”
Instead of going the distance needed to truly make a difference in air quality, the state opted to do the bare minimum.
“The state proposes to take credit for strictly voluntary pollution reduction measures that sources already planned to take regardless of what happens in this rulemaking,” said Caitlin Miller, associate attorney with Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain office. “The CAQCC can and must do more to protect Colorado’s beautiful national parks and other Class I areas and to protect the local communities that are disproportionately impacted by pollution.“
Air pollution in Colorado has a significant impact on the health and welfare of fenceline and frontline communities, or the neighborhoods where oil refineries, cement facilities, coal plants, and other industry polluters operate.
These communities, which are largely communities of color and working class/working poor communities, are at a disproportionate risk for health complications from the toxins emitted from these facilities, and the state of Colorado has a responsibility to ensure that they are protected.
The National Parks Conservation Association and the Sierra Club submitted to the state three alternate proposals that, if adopted, would secure significant additional and cost-effective nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and particulate matter (PM) pollution reductions from some of the state’s heavy polluters, Suncor, GCC Rio Grande — Pueblo, and Holcim Florence facilities.
“Following a summer of memorably low visibility in Colorado due to haze, now is the time to enforce strong pollution reductions from the state’s dirtiest coal plants, cement plants, and refinery. Our health and our views of Colorado’s iconic mountain vistas like those at Rocky Mountain National Park will be better for it,” said Anna McDevitt, senior campaign representative, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.
The people of Colorado, the environment, and the national parks are harmed by underregulated industries that pollute the air daily. Colorado has the opportunity to set the pace for the rest of the nation. The CAQCC must take the lead and hold accountable industries that would otherwise continue polluting the air, water, and land with impunity.
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