Ahead of markup in the Colorado legislature, community and conservation groups voiced their support for a pared-down version of the Protecting Communities From Air Pollution Act that the bill’s sponsors will reveal today. The bill, introduced by Representatives Bacon and Willford, will be amended to ensure a greater chance of passage in this year’s legislative session, while maintaining important measures to address Colorado’s dangerous air quality problem. Groups urged support for the amended bill as an essential step, but underscored that environmental injustices in Colorado will continue until the state more comprehensively addresses Colorado’s failed permitting system.
The amended bill will require Colorado to define “cumulative impacts” of emissions sources to better inform analyses by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It will also strengthen air quality complaint processes and increase opportunities for community members and advocates to engage in permit enforcement.
The amended bill, however, removes other proposed reforms that would have addressed a key root cause of our ozone crisis and ensured that Colorado’s permitting processes comply with federal air quality standards, which the state has failed to meet for decades. The consequence of inaction on these issues will mean another year of failing to address the cumulative impacts of new pollution sources — before approving permits — to prevent emissions increases that violate federal air quality standards and harm communities. It will mean additional missed school days, missed days of work, and increased health impacts for communities across the state — particularly communities of color and low-income communities.
While some of the crucial permitting provisions were removed, the amended legislation will require an interim legislative committee to convene in the coming months to examine the matter more closely. The committee will look at Colorado’s air quality problem, explore additional ozone reduction measures, and identify potential reforms to the permitting process. The amended legislation looks to further codify measures that will make progress towards the governor’s recent NOx reduction announcement, including by ensuring that the new targets are verifiable and enforceable, and by requiring specific control measures such as electric engines for oil and gas operations.
This week, the American Lung Association released its 2023 State of the Air report. Denver is now the sixth worst city in the nation for high ozone days, up from seventh in last year’s report. Colorado Springs has now joined Denver and Fort Collins among the 25 worst cities for ozone nationwide, highlighting the need for statewide action on ozone.
“Despite the forthcoming amendments, this bill will provide our communities with the tools necessary to protect ourselves and our air quality,” states Jared Bynum with Colorado Rising. “The fight for comprehensive reform continues, but this bill — even as amended — gives us a fighting chance towards tackling ozone pollution and protecting our health.”
“The ability to breathe clean air is a fundamental need for every person, regardless of age, income, or race — the most basic necessity,” shared Rosemary Othmer Pesko, leader with Together Colorado. “Colorado’s continued failure to regulate and clean up our ozone means more health problems, including asthma. It’s simply unacceptable to let polluters, large or small, off the hook. The amended bill is a strong step forward for our communities, and we remain committed to working with partners and legislators for additional reforms in the future.”
“Cleaning up Colorado’s air pollution problem is a multi-step process. As amended, the Protecting Communities From Air Pollution Act remains one of the crucial steps in that process. There are still additional actions to take but we support the reforms that are in the bill,” said Sara Kuntzler, Colorado program manager for Mountain Mamas. “As moms, we just want to protect our children from the dangers of air pollution and we thank the sponsors for their work to do so.”
“Even with amendments, this bill takes some important steps toward curbing emissions and improving air quality. We still have a long way to go, however, until we can say that we’ve done all we can to clean our air and provide stronger protections for our populations most at risk from our state’s biggest polluters,” said Sabrina Pacha, senior director of Healthy Air and Water Colorado, which represents health professional working on climate change. “We know we have a public health crisis on our hands and we’ll be back as many times as it takes to change that reality for every Coloradan.”
“The Protecting Communities from Air Pollution Act will not, on its own, solve our ozone problem, but it is an important step forward to address our state’s ozone crisis,” said Lorena Gonzalez, Conservation Colorado’s climate campaign manager. “It provides a meaningful forum to consider and advance legislation that our communities deserve. We will continue to fight alongside partners and legislative champions for the health and safety of communities across Colorado.”
“HB23-1294 is a historic piece of legislation that would address Colorado’s long-standing ozone issues and increase the air quality in the state,” said Valley Lopez with 350 Colorado. “350 Colorado are strong supporters of this bill because of the positive impacts it will have on both public health and the environment. While this bill is an important step in the right direction, our work is far from complete. We must continue to advocate for a tightening of the air quality permitting process for oil and gas. This is a key factor in attaining long term results.”
“Air pollution is a long-standing major health hazard in Colorado, especially impacting the economically disadvantaged and communities of color,” said Ramesh Bhatt, chair of the Colorado Sierra Club Conservation Committee. “The Sierra Club is pleased that a bill has been introduced in the legislature that seeks to address some of the issues associated with polluting industries like oil and gas. We look forward to seeing the bill pass and the implementation of additional regulatory and legislative steps that are promised in the bill.”
“This amended bill maintains critically important pieces that will help address Colorado’s ongoing ozone crisis,” said Rebecca Curry, policy advocate for Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “While our support for the bill remains steadfast, we must holistically tackle this problem. We will continue working to ensure meaningful permitting reforms are put forth to both hold polluters accountable and protect Colorado’s most vulnerable communities.”
“Coloradans across the state are impacted daily by poor air quality. As amended, this bill is an important step to limiting the cumulative impacts experienced by people in close proximity to these facilities, and it provides a real opportunity for communities to protect themselves from harm,” said Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson with Earthworks. “We are grateful that the state of Colorado recognizes the serious threat posed by ozone pollution. More must be done, and we look forward to continuing our efforts to ensure that all Coloradans are breathing clean and healthy air.”