Community and environmental groups filed a motion to intervene yesterday in a suit brought by Suncor Energy against the state of Colorado regarding fenceline monitoring for its Commerce City refinery. In accordance with the state’s new Fenceline Monitoring Law, the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) had required Suncor to expand the number of monitors, the number of pollutants monitored, and public notification requirements of certain emission levels by January 1.
GreenLatinos, the Elyria-Swansea Neighborhood Association, Healthy Air and Water Colorado, Womxn from the Mountain, Conservation Colorado, and Sierra Club are intervening to defend APCD’s fenceline monitoring order and will be represented by Earthjustice.
“It is unthinkable that Suncor is attempting to prevent increased monitoring of the pollution that has devastated our neighborhood for generations,” said Drew Dutcher, president of the Elyria-Swansea Neighborhood Association. “The Suncor refinery has gotten away with polluting our air and water for far too long. Instead of increasing their monitoring — as they are required to do — they are expanding their pollution and deepening the harm to our communities. The state of Colorado must stand up for residents who want to breathe clean air and not be poisoned by this toxic refinery.”
Beginning in 2023, Suncor will be required to monitor 14 pollutants at its perimeter and notify surrounding communities of releases that could potentially harm public health. Community members and partner organizations worked to draft and support the passage of the Fenceline Monitoring Law, HB21-1189, last year. The program looks to increase transparency around toxic pollution for the communities most impacted, particularly low-income families and communities of color.
“Suncor has been allowed to regulate and monitor themselves for so long that they do not think health and safety protections for disproportionately impacted communities and the environment apply to them, to the massive public endangerment of the generations suffering from particulate pollution,” said Renée M Chacon, executive director and cofounder of Womxn from the Mountain. “We have every right to protect ourselves now as Indigenous people and communities surviving their harms, capable of showing them exactly where they continue to harm with no accountability.”
The intervention seeks to protect both the strengthened monitoring plan for Suncor and the Fenceline Monitoring Law itself. Suncor’s suit hopes to eliminate improvements made by APCD to the monitoring plan and substantially narrow APCD’s authority under the Fenceline Monitoring Law. The groups’ intervention reflects community support for APCD’s authority to impose strong requirements on Suncor and other covered facilities.
“For years our community has been organizing to see the implementation of the strongest monitoring program in order to ensure compliance and to add to the volume of research being conducted by the community to understand the cumulative pollution exposures in North Denver,” said Ean Thomas Tafoya, GreenLatinos CO State Director. “It is of the utmost importance that we intervene to ensure the community’s will is done.”
The area surrounding Suncor remains one of the most polluted zip codes in the country. Residents are impacted by significantly higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma and asthma-related emergency room visits than the rest of the city. Groups also recently petitioned the EPA to object to Suncor’s East Plant Title V air permit, as the revised version put forward by the state continues to violate National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
“The 2021 bill to regulate air toxics was a landmark victory for air quality protections, spearheaded by community members in disproportionately impacted communities and supported by organizations working to protect air quality statewide,” said Jared Bynum, communities and justice advocate with Conservation Colorado. “Action by the APCD, at the behest of the residents living in Suncor’s shadow, represents a major move to protect community health and safety. Suncor’s rebuke of these regulations threatens years of progress toward managing toxic pollution in our neighborhoods.”
“Pollution monitoring is a necessary basic step for emission reduction,” said Ramesh Bhatt, chair of the Colorado Sierra Club Conservation Committee. “By refusing to even monitor pollution from its facilities, Suncor is clearly indicating that it is more interested in profits than in protecting the surrounding communities. We intend to fight vigorously against this attempt by Suncor to avoid the law.”
“Suncor is attempting to dismantle a hard-fought victory from the communities most impacted by its facility and we will work tirelessly to ensure that does not happen,” said Robert Rigonan, associate attorney with Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “Transparency around the toxins this polluter pumps into surrounding communities should be only the first step and bare minimum. It is time for state and federal regulators to hold Suncor responsible for its devastating impacts on those in North Denver and Commerce City.”
“In order to protect public health, it is critical that Suncor adheres to the law and conducts robust monitoring of their emissions,” said Sabrina Pacha, senior director of Healthy Air & Water Colorado. “Health professionals have long been calling on industrial polluters to curb their toxic emissions in order to curb rates of cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular disease. The health of the community is at risk should polluters not be held accountable to the law.”