The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) adopted a provisional rule to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from industrial facilities last week, as required by the Colorado Environmental Justice Act. Despite concerns raised by GreenLatinos and community members whose health is harmed by ongoing pollution, the commission approved a GHG trading system rather than exclusively requiring regulated sources to install onsite pollution reduction measures that would help hold them accountable for their pollution.
In a statement submitted to the commission, GreenLatinos declared that the GHG trading system violates the Environmental Justice Act’s mandate to protect disproportionately impacted communities by “rapid[ly] reduc[ing] pollution in disproportionately impacted communities.” As the Air Pollution Control Division admitted at the rulemaking hearing, regulated sources can comply with their GHG reduction requirements exclusively through the purchase of credits and are not independently required to reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants, leaving vulnerable communities exposed to harmful chemicals. The provisional rule also directs the division to adopt a pay-to-pollute reduction fund which enables sources to forego GHG reduction requirements by instead paying into a state-managed fund. The fund will be operationalized in a future rulemaking.
The GEMM II (Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Energy Management for Manufacturing Phase 2) rule will apply to major polluters like Suncor, Molson Coors, and Cargill. The rule is intended to satisfy the Environmental Justice Act’s mandate to reduce industry’s GHG emissions by 20% below 2015 levels while establishing protections for disproportionately impacted communities (DICs). Colorado’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industry is the first of its kind nationwide, so it was a lost opportunity to set a protective standard. A rule that would protect communities from this kind of pollution was mandated by the act, which was championed by community groups and impacted residents.
“Once again decisionmakers in the Polis administration have chosen polluters over the people who are harmed by the toxic pollution from Colorado’s largest industrial facilities, including Suncor,” said Ean Thomas Tafoya, Colorado state director for GreenLatinos. “It is maddening to see the efforts to pass the Environmental Justice Act turn into an unjust rule filled with polluters’ requests, including a trading scheme and directive to allow these facilities to pay to pollute, instead of cleaning up their act to protect people. We passed the EJ Act during the pandemic as we saw the devastating impacts on disproportionately impacted communities due to air pollution. The AQCC lacks DIC representation and it has become a place for justice-centered efforts to be dismantled. Frontline communities will respond with increased accountability over this latest failure.”
“Unfortunately, this rule fails to sufficiently reduce pollution in disproportionately impacted communities, as the Environmental Justice Act intended,” said Ian Coghill, senior attorney with Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “The act makes clear that communities have a right to clean air and under this new trading system, emissions could even increase for those most impacted by industrial facilities. More must be done by the state to spur onsite reductions of harmful pollutants.”