Colorado Air Pollution Crisis

View of Boulder, Colorado

What’s Going On With Colorado Air Quality?

BLOG| Chandra Rosenthal

When you think of Colorado, you probably imagine clear, blue skies and sunshinethat image doesn’t jibe with the air quality in much of the state.  Colorado’s urban air quality is ranked 43rd out of 50 states by the US News & World Report 2019 Best States report. The state’s entire Front Range remains in violation of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) set by EPA and has been in noncompliance since 2012. Read More»

Whistleblowers On the Front Lines

Dr. Detlev Helmig

University of Colorado in Boulder

Dr. Detlev Helmig had been conducting research that involved the real-time monitoring of pollution from the oil and gas industry, and his work was revealing pollution spikes. In April 2020, he was terminated from the University of Colorado and removed from several major projects centered on polar climate science.

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PEER and Dr. Helmig believe his termination was a result of his ongoing monitoring work on the oil and gas industry in Colorado. Dr. Helmig’s company had also been given the contract for real-time monitoring of the Suncor oil refinery, to be paid for by the company’s settlement following the spike in hydrogen cyanide emissions in 2018 that exceeded their permitted 12.8-ton limit by 1.3 tons. On April 29, 2021, Dr. Helmig’s legal counsel sent a letter to the National Science Foundation regarding misrepresentations in CU Boulder’s “investigation” of Dr. Helmig.

Air Permit Modeling Team

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

On March 15, 2021, the Air Division Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) ordered the air permit modeling team to cease checking for certain criteria pollutants in existing and pending permits. The air pollutants at issue are sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulates, which can result in unhealthy levels of ozone.

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The Colorado Front Range—the area around Denver—has been in violation of National Ambient Air Quality Standards for these pollutants since 2012. The air pollutants at issue are sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulates, which can result in unhealthy levels of ozone. The Colorado Front Range—the area around Denver—has been in violation of National Ambient Air Quality Standards for these pollutants since 2012. Shortly after directing the modeling team not to check for said pollutants, CDPHE quietly removed its guidance document for air quality permits from the website. In response to the March 15 instruction, PEER filed a complaint on behalf of the air permit modeling staff with the US Environmental Protection Agency Office of the Inspector General seeking a performance review and audit of the CDPHE Air Division. PEER also sent a letter to the Executive Director of CDPHE that disclosures of air pollution violations are covered by the Colorado Whistleblower Protection Act.

In response to the OIG complaint, the Colorado Attorney General is seeking a Special Assistant Attorney General to conduct a narrow investigation of the improper non-enforcement by CDPHE. The investigation will only cover facts related to the allegations that permits were unlawfully issued, that CDPHE staff were ordered to falsify data in modeling reports, and what level of discretion CDPHE has under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards program. PEER is requesting that the scope of the investigation be expanded to include the designation and permitting processes for multiple coal-fired power plants and a gold mine. The request is related to a February 2 call for federal intervention to address ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act, particularly in light of the exacerbated impacts of COVID-19 on frontline communities harmed by air pollution.

Impacts

Suncor Oil Refinery

The Suncor Oil Refinery is seeking new air and water discharge permits from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but Air Division employees were directed not to model short-term pollution. Read More»

Interstate Expansions

Air pollution in Commerce City is made even worse by the ongoing expansion of Interstate 70 that broke ground in 2018. CDOT is also currently considering a proposed expansion of Interstate 270. Read More»

Xcel Power Plants

Air permits for the Cherokee Power Plant and Pawnee Generating Station were both issued under faulty air modeling and a disregard of multi-year emissions overages. Read More»

Gold and Fossil Fuel Mining

Several mines in Colorado received unlawful air permits that do not comply with National Ambient Air Quality Standards as a result of CDPHE leadership’s orders to staff to ignore or falsify emissions data. Read More»

AIR POLLUTION NEWS FROM PEER

Colorado Air Pollution – Gold and Fossil Fuel Mining

Several mines in Colorado received unlawful air permits that do not comply with air quality standards as a result ...

Colorado Air Pollution – Interstate Expansions

$1.2 billion project started in August 2018, to widen I-70 from 6 lanes to 8 lanes near Commerce City, Colorado.

Colorado Air Pollution – Suncor

The allegations against the CDPHE implicate the air permit renewal for the Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City.

BLOG | What is Going On with EPA Chemicals?

Colorado has been undermining its own air pollution experts for years in favor of easing requirements for polluters.

Letter to Michael Regan – Cherokee Power Plant, Colorado – 05-10-2021 (PDF) 

DESCRIPTION: Letter to Michael Regan regarding environmental justice issues around the Cherokee power plant in ...

Letter to Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser – Air Quality Standards – 05-07-2021 (PDF) 

DESCRIPTION: Request to Expand Scope of Investigation by Special Assistant Attorneys General into Non-Enforcement ...

Letter to the EPA Inspector General Requesting Review of Colorado Air Quality Non-Enforcement (PDF)

DESCRIPTION: Request for Review of Intentional Non-Enforcement of National Ambient Air Quality Standards by ...

Colorado Orders Staff to Ignore Air Pollution Violations  

Air Modelers Request Federal Intervention and Whistleblower Protection   

Letter to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment – Air Quality Standards – 03/30/2021 (PDF)

DESCRIPTION: Letter to Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment to request that Colorado meet all ...

Letter to EPA IG – Colorado Air Quality Standards – 03/30/2021 (PDF)

DESCRIPTION: Request for Review of Intentional Non-Enforcement of National Ambient Air Quality Standards by ...

Beyond 2020: Pollution Enforcement

The strength of pollution regulation in the U.S. relies on enforcement, and the agency in charge is falling down on

I-70 Expansion Modeling Report (PDF)

Air Modeling for PM 2.5 & PM 10 for I-70 East Phase1 demonstrates that the project will violate NAAQS PM 2.5.

Pruitt’s New Dirty Air Plan Hatched Behind the Scenes

Ambient or Outdoor Air Pollution Standards Set for Rollback per Industry Playbook

Lawsuit to Require Chemical Accident Emission Reports

Hurricane Harvey Chemical Explosions Spotlight Neglected Clean Air Act Mandate

Who Turned off Air Pollution Monitor During Bridge Closure?

U.S. EPA to Investigate Why Key Air Monitor Went Offline for Nearly Three Days

Disturbing Toxic Air Results Confirmed in Paterson, NJ

State Dissembles on Findings That 7 Air Toxics Are “Above the Health Benchmark”

Twenty Seven New Jersey Superfund-Eligible Sites Left off List

EPA Still Reviewing Status of Unknown Number of Garden State Toxic Hotspots

Christie Guts Vapor Intrusion Safeguards

New Jersey Puts Private Consultants in Public Health Driver’s Seat

Cutbacks Cripple Arizona Air Pollution Enforcement

Despite Looming EPA Sanctions, County Signals Corporate Kid Glove Treatment

New Jersey to Deregulate Toxic Vapor Intrusion

Control of Deadly Seepage Put on “Honor System” in Christie Regulatory Rollback

New Jersey Guts New Privatized Toxic Clean-Up Rules

“Safety Cushion” Extended to Polluters at Expense of Public Health

Spiking Mercury Levels in Coal Ash Pose New Risks

Tougher Pollution Controls Multiply Toxic Potency of Coal Combustion Wastes

Christie to Axe Jersey Pollution and Public Health Rules

“Red Tape Review Group” Issues Hit List of Regulations to Toss or Water Down

New Jersey Downplays Disturbing Air Toxics Study

DEP Mounts Messaging Campaign to Minimize Risk Findings in Paterson

New Jersey Closing Its Nose to Vapor Intrusion Crisis

Vapor Intrusion Rules Cast into Regulatory Limbo as Horror Stories Multiply

Massachusetts Suspends Troubled Woody Biomass Initiative

Sustainability, Pollution and Net Energy Usage Uncertainties Prompt New Study

Radiation Exposure Limits Weakened in Departing Bush Move

Huge Hikes in Allowable Radioactivity in Drinking Water, Air and Soil

Cap & Trade Emissions Control Plans Have Poor Track Records

Three Market-Based Air Pollution Programs This Decade Deemed Failures

Asthma Epidemic Among Young Blacks in Ingham County

Suppressed Report Shows Disturbing Trends