The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released a draft air quality permit for Suncor’s West Plant today, initiating a 60-day comment period for the public to weigh in. Environmental and community groups issued statements calling for the strongest possible permit for Suncor with robust monitoring and reporting measures that will provide meaningful protection for the communities living in Suncor’s shadow.
Today’s draft permit follows a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) objection to Suncor’s East Plant permit in March. The EPA found that CDPHE needed to consider additional air monitoring at the East Plant. EPA also expressed concerns about CDPHE’s approach to permitting changes to the company’s operations, including those that allow it to emit even more harmful pollution into surrounding communities. EPA therefore advised CDPHE to stop rubber stamping proposed changes to the refinery’s operations out of the public’s eye. However, against EPA’s recommendations, CDPHE’s draft permit for the West Plant perpetuates these issues by failing to fully scrutinize recent modifications to the West Plant.
Overall, CDPHE proposes increasing permitted emissions by over 90 tons per year. Yet, while CDPHE recognized that the surrounding communities are at high risk for environmental harms, CDPHE has inexplicably concluded that the West Plant permit is unlikely to have adverse impacts on the community. In addition, CDPHE’s draft permit continues to treat the East and West Plants separately, despite environmental and community groups’ calls for CDPHE to combine the permits to ensure that it is comprehensively assessing the impacts of all of the pollution from Suncor’s operation and its effects on community health.
“Environmental injustices have caused enormous and lasting harm to communities like mine,” said Shaina Oliver, field coordinator with Moms Clean Air Force Colorado. “Whether on the Navajo Reservation, where I was born, or in Denver — Black, Brown, Indigenous, and working class people are subject to environmentally unjust and discriminatory policies. It’s time for us to prioritize the health of children and families who have had to live with pollution from Suncor for far too long.”
“It is appalling that we have to fight our own government to protect public health,” said Lucy Molina, an impacted Commerce City resident. “Impacted communities like mine beg for relief. No more band-aids, we need a serious overhaul along with a just transition. Justice is not charity.”
“My community and children are born in pollution and will die in harm’s way with no protections, every time we continue the status quo for permitting regulations because they are incompetent to real equity and always have been,” said Renée Millard-Chacon, environmental action taskforce member, co-founder of Womxn from the Mountain, and mother living in Commerce City. “The lack of action from CDPHE and the state to protect our communities from corporate violence is going against every effort to protect our human rights to live and thrive for decades, and is against the recommendations for our health and safety from the EPA, environmental justice coalitions, and future generations’ rights to clean air, water, land, and reasonable safety, to live in our communities on our ancestral homelands.”
“Impacted community members, like my mother, are fed up with the failure to protect them and the environment. The EPA and CDPHE have an environmental justice mandate. So let’s come together to deny permits that do not protect the health of the community,” said Ean Thomas Tafoya, Colorado state director of GreenLatinos.
“It is extremely unfortunate that CDPHE has chosen to ignore the EPA and is allowing Suncor to continue business as usual and pollute communities that are already suffering from decades of relentless, uncontrolled pollution,” said Ramesh Bhatt, conservation committee chair of the Colorado Sierra Club.
“Suncor has been given a pass to harm surrounding communities, including disproportionately communities of color, for far too long,” said Alexandra Schluntz, associate attorney for Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain office. “Unfortunately, CDPHE seems intent on repeating its mistakes that led to EPA’s concerns about the East Plant. CDPHE must take EPA’s recommendations into account when it comes to the West Plant and fix the shortcomings that put communities at risk.”
The community can offer comments on the draft permit for Suncor’s West Plant on CDPHE’s Air Permit Public Notices or by emailing email@example.com. CDPHE must meet a deadline of June 23 for revising Suncor’s East Plant permit in line with EPA’s objections.