Representatives Jennifer Bacon and Jenny Willford will soon introduce the Protecting Communities From Air Pollution Act in the Colorado House of Representatives. The bill aims to improve Colorado’s broken air quality permitting and enforcement processes that have worsened the state’s ozone crisis. This proposed legislation complements the governor’s recently announced actions to reduce NOx pollution from the oil and gas sector, but applies to a broader range of ozone-forming pollution sources and strengthens enforcement.
“Black and Brown communities have been systematically relegated to neighborhoods with higher rates of pollution and in closer proximity to highways and toxic polluting facilities — and our kids are getting more and more sick. Taking immediate action to clean up our severe ozone problem would mean fewer emergency room visits and fewer days of missed school and work,” said Nikie Day with Black and Brown Parents United Foundation. “Colorado must act now to deliver clean air for Black and Brown families.”
“Living in this pollution, I started having bloody noses and sinus problems. They’ve gotten so bad that I’ve had to start seeing a pulmonologist,” stated Carol Hawkins, Ault resident and member of Colorado Rising. “Knowing that the gas wells behind my house may be out of compliance is bad enough, but hearing that the state is permitting even more without considering the compounding impacts is infuriating. We need common sense reforms to protect our neighborhoods now.”
The Protecting Communities From Air Pollution Act will strengthen Colorado’s permitting processes to better ensure compliance with the federal National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). NAAQS are set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, and other health hazards. For decades, the Denver Metro/North Front Range area has violated the NAAQS for ozone, putting public health at risk, and was recently downgraded to severe nonattainment. The legislation increases the use of air quality analysis to assess the impacts of emissions increases — before permits are approved — to ensure compliance with the NAAQS.
“Our state has failed to address the cumulative impacts of oil and gas development — despite having clear guidance to protect public health,” said Shaina Oliver, state coordinator for Moms Clean Air Force and Indigenous peoples rights advocate. “As a result, families like mine are suffering from poor air quality including my youngest son who was diagnosed with asthma last year. Our children’s health must be of the utmost importance to our policy makers — it’s why parents are counting on our state leadership to get it right this time. The Protecting Communities From Air Pollution Act is thus a step in the right direction.”
“Due to the legacy of redlining, racist land use policies, and former KKK control of Colorado, our Black communities find themselves disproportionately impacted by the state’s ozone problem. Delayed action will only continue to put the lungs of our communities under even higher health and financial burdens,” said Portia Prescott, president of the Rocky Mountain NAACP CO-MT-WY State. “Communities struggling to breathe need solutions right now. State leaders must step up and go after the polluters that continue to perpetuate environmental racism and cumulative harm to those who can least afford it.”
“As a pediatrician, I see firsthand in my clinic the impacts of our state’s poor air quality, especially on high ozone days which have grown too frequent in Colorado’s increasingly hot summer months. I’m treating more children with asthma attacks, and it’s heartbreaking to see them afraid of not being able to breathe,” said Dr. Sheela Mahnke, a Thornton pediatrician and Healthy Air and Water Colorado advocate. “We need to quickly fix Colorado’s broken permitting system and ensure that we are raising our standards for holding our worst polluters accountable to the health impacts they inflict on Colorado communities. This legislation is a step toward the cleaner air we all need for the sake of our collective health.”
“Ozone is just one of many cumulative impacts that harm our communities severely,” said Renée M. Chacon, co-founder and executive director of Womxn from the Mountain. “Colorado has had more than enough time to act and bring relief, so being aggressive and transformative in our legislation can and will save lives.”
The legislation will also require collaboration between the Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) on permitting, such that air quality analysis performed by APCD must inform COGCC’s assessment of cumulative impacts. APCD would be required to first issue an air permit before COGCC could approve a new oil and gas permit.
“Ozone pollution has serious and harmful health impacts that are not felt equally among all populations,” said Lorena Gonzalez, climate advocate for Conservation Colorado. “Medically vulnerable individuals, people who live close to sources of pollution, the outdoor workforce, low-income communities, and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality. By requiring air quality analysis in the permitting process, this bill will fix Colorado’s flawed permitting process and protect people from the harmful effects of ozone.”
The bill also seeks to improve public engagement in permitting processes and increase opportunities for permit enforcement. It would strengthen the public complaint processes and allow members of the public to initiate legal actions to enforce violations of air permits.
“We are called to love our neighbor, which means, in part, that we don’t make them sick by polluting their air. This ozone bill is a big step toward keeping our air clean and breathable,” said Rev. Jeff Neuman-Lee with Together Colorado. “When some say that they cannot afford to not pollute, especially when the costs to not pollute are so minimal, they put their corporate greed over our communities’ health.”
“The time is now to stop compromising the health and well-being of communities for profit,” said Guadalupe Solis, director of Environmental Justice Programs at Cultivando. “For our communities to achieve a future free of toxic ozone and air pollution, those living in impacted areas need to be informed about permitting enforcement and that their complaints will go through a transparent and improved public complaint process. This legislation is a step toward achieving that future.”
“Coloradans across the state deserve an enforcement program that doesn’t discard the real life experience of those living next to oil and gas extraction sites,” said Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson, senior manager for state legislative and regulatory affairs at Earthworks. “Even after filing official complaints, community members are largely left out of the enforcement process and made to wait until regulators can go out and gather their own evidence before any action is taken. Rather than leaving residents to be exposed to toxic pollution and other potential threats posed by hazardous facilities situated next to their homes, we need to empower communities to gather evidence and ensure that regulators center their enforcement efforts around those most directly impacted by these facilities.”
In 2021, whistleblowers alleged that the APCD had approved air permits despite known NAAQS violations. These allegations were confirmed in July 2022 by the EPA, which noted “important concerns with the state’s implementation” of air pollution permits risking “harm to air quality and public health air quality.” Despite the EPA’s recent downgrade of the Denver metro/north Front Range area as a severe violator of the federal ozone NAAQS, last year the state once again put forward an inadequate plan that fails to get Colorado to where it needs to be on ozone pollution.
For the last decade, ozone levels have been dangerously high in Colorado. The oil and gas industry is the largest contributor to ozone pollution in the state, but the state’s ozone action plans have not included adequate controls to reduce pollution from this sector.
“We have a serious ozone problem in our state and when the bathtub is already overflowing, the last thing you should do is turn on another faucet,” said CoPIRG Clean Air Advocate Kirsten Schatz. “This bill will help make sure we are not allowing new sources of ozone pollution to add to the problem, and is a key part of the Ozone Agenda we hope the legislature will pass this spring. Every pound of ozone-forming pollution that we can prevent from entering our air matters for our health and quality of life.”
“This bill would be a major step toward getting Colorado’s ozone pollution problem under control,” said Rebecca Curry, policy advocate for Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “For too long, communities have suffered due to the state’s broken permitting process for our worst industrial polluters. By passing this bill, the legislature can hold these serial offenders accountable and protect our next generation from continued health impacts.”
“Many parts of Colorado have been suffering from serious air pollution for a long time, with ozone being a prominent example,” said Ramesh Bhatt, conservation chair of Colorado Sierra Club. “This bill provides state agencies with the tools and direction to listen to affected residents, prevent further pollution, and work cooperatively with each other. We in the Sierra Club look forward to seeing the bill enacted, which will pave the way to cleaning up the air we breathe, thus protecting our health and wellbeing.”
Ozone pollution can cause serious health problems including shortness of breath, asthma attacks, decreased lung function, increased risk of respiratory infections, and aggravated lung diseases. Studies have also linked lower birth weight in newborns to ozone levels in their community. Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality, leading to increased health risks, higher healthcare costs, and missed school days for children.
The full text of the bill is available upon request.