All posts by Gayla Martinez

Regional Haze updates

The AQCC meeting on Thursday, November 19 began with public comment.  There were a limited number of people who signed up , but included were several stellar two minute comments from high school students representing a Net Zero club at a Denver area high school.

STAFF PRESENTATION
The presentation by Lisa Devore focused primarily on scheduled retirements for 9 coal powered plants and one mine spread out roughly over the next decade.  This will result in a significant drop in emissions from the Electric Generating Units (EGUs) in the state.  Commissioner Elise Jones, asked about the possibility of pushing some of these plant retirements* forward.  Staff seemed to think that this would be asking too much of the utilities given the complex nature of these transitions.  A question was also asked about whether it was expected for the transition to be to natural gas vs renewables.  Given the variety of EGUs in the state it was impossible to answer this question directly, but it was pointed out that the improved cost of wind and solar makes renewables an increasingly attractive option.  

* They are being called retirements and not closures, because although coal is being phased out either natural gas or renewables will replace them and the plants will in many cases still be open.


There has been a 14% drop in emissions from the O&G sector over the last decade.  This leaves vehicle emissions as the largest piece of the emissions pie.  It should be noted that for the purposes of the Regional Haze State Implementation Plan  the emissions of interest are limited to NOx, SO2, and particulates. 


Other good news is that the state is on track for meeting goals to reduce regional haze in both Rocky Mountain National Park and the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

TAKE-AWAYS

1) The state has been making progress and their work needs to be recognized and congratulated.  However, given the current climate emergency, we need to keep up the pressure for faster reductions of emissions in all sectors.

2) There is more than one way to skin a cat; in addition to improving regulations for O&G operators, we can also reduce the influence of the petroleum industry by reducing demand for their products.  Right now in Colorado we need a focus on the transportation sector, moving away from combustion engines to electric/hydrogen vehicles and improving public transportation networks.

3) We need to continue to encourage the PRPA to scuttle any plans for future construction of natural gas units and to take the necessary steps to prepare for a transition to 100% renewable power generation by 2030.

Air Quality Enterprise Board–What is it?

Yesterday, I listened in to most of the introductory meeting for the Air Quality Enterprise Board just to learn what it is about. It is a non-regulatory state agency under the Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) the purpose of which is to collect good data on emissions in order to use that data for research. Funding for this work will come from operators and the initial task of the board is to determine how to collect fees. These fees are in addition to emissions fees already being paid by the industry. They hope to have a fee structure in place by next summer.


There were 60+ participants in the zoom, I’m assuming a number of them were industry representatives, but since most of the discussion took place through questions in the chat box, it was hard to tell. The one comment that I particularly took note of was from someone identified as JB who said, “I also feel personally, that the oil and gas industry may be just about tapped out.” I took that as good news.

O&G Threat to National forests

Public comment is being accepted until Nov. 2, 2020 regarding a proposed policy change that would expedite the process of granting drilling permits in our National Forests. This is important because it will potentially affect federally managed forests across the nation, including many in our own state, and yet a preliminary comment period, which took place a year ago, garnered only 91 comments. Below is a sample letter followed by instructions for how to access the government website that will give you more information about the proposed policy change and allow you to submit your own comment.

I live in Fort Collins, Colorado.  For more than a month, the air quality here has swayed back and forth between poor and dangerous.  My husband made a trip to the ER because of shortness of breath.  My daughter and son-in-law check air quality reports before taking their infant son out for a walk.  We are stuck inside our homes because we are stuck between two major sources of air pollution:  wildfires in forests to the west and ozone producing fracking operations to the east.  The proposed rule is likely to exacerbate both of these threats to the “public interest.”

The proposal states:

It is in the national interest to promote clean and safe development of our Nation’s vast energy resources while preserving the surface resources of national forests and grasslands.

This statement, if applied to oil and gas extraction, is an oxymoron.  Living in a region that has been intensively exploited by hydraulic fracturing, I am acutely aware of the fact that it is a process that is never “clean” and that is frequently dangerous and destructive.  Spills, leaks, unexpected releases of toxic emissions, fires and explosions are frequent occurrences even while industry representatives assure the public that they are applying extreme caution and best practices in all their operations.

A policy that attempts to subsume permits for drilling in National Forests under the more generalized process for BLM lands ignores the distinctive nature of forests.  In addition to providing recreation and habitat for wildlife, forests absorb carbon, regulate climate, and are critical for maintaining water resources.

We have wildfires to the west of us and to the north of us.  As of September 25th there were 1,500 wildfires currently active across the western united states.  There is a connection between these fires and oil and gas extraction—climate change.  The consequences of excessive reliance on fossil fuels are negatively impacting our lives today.  Continued dependence on oil and gas does not line up with increased “national security.” What we need are policies that protect our National Forests from the private exploitation that is robbing the general population of our most important national resources: clean air and clean water.

Once the fires are extinguished and air quality improves, we will then have to worry about our water supply.  The mountains, where many of these fires have been burning, is our watershed.  Denuded hillsides are susceptible to erosion.  The water never has a chance to sink into aquifers; it races away and leaves land that is already stressed by drought without the water we need to drink, to grow crops, to survive.

According to the proposed rule:

Section 2 of E.O. 13783 directs agencies to review existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources and appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law.

The production and use of domestic energy resources has not been “unduly burdened.”  Quite the contrary.  This is an industry that has been coddled and that burdens the public by refusing to assume responsibility for the negative externalities it has imposed on society and the economy.  It is an industry that has burdened tax-payers with subsidies.  It has burdened the public with negative health impacts, with the pollution of our air and water, with abandoned infrastructure that will impose risks well into the future as pipes corrode and cement deteriorates, and above all it has burdened us all by tenaciously pushing forward its own private-profit-focused agenda even while knowing that this would lead to global climate change. 

Responsible governance for today and for the future will require renewed commitment to protecting  forests and other public lands.  There is little advantage to “streamlining” a process that leads to destruction and degradation of the land, air and water that sustain us all.  We are rapidly finding other ways of meeting the energy needs of the country, but clean air and water are non-negotiable and irreplaceable. 

I strongly urge that the proposed rule change be denied.

COMMENT NOW!

Electronically: Via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter 0596-AD33, which is the RIN for this proposed rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rule link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”

Mail: Send written comments to USDA-Forest Service. Attn: Director-MGM Staff, 1617 Cole Boulevard, Building 17, Lakewood, CO 80401.

Written comment for Aqcc

Colorado and Asthma Pamphlet Cover

“I found a cure.”  These were the words of Charles H. Marsh, my great-great-grandfather, which were recorded in a pamphlet titled Colorado and Asthma published in 1874.  His was one of 110 interviews of individuals who had come to Colorado specifically for the lung healing properties of our clean, dry air.*  By the time Charles Marsh left Michigan in 1871, asthma prohibited him from walking even two blocks from his home to his law office, but once having settled into a new life in Fort Collins, he was able to exalt “[I] am strong and well; not a man in the region that can do more work than I can or that sleeps better nights.”

Things have changed along Colorado’s Front Range.  A month ago, on August 18,  the great-great-great-great grandson of Charles Marsh was born in Fort Collins.  His parents check the air quality ratings on a daily basis before deciding if it is safe to take their infant son outside for a walk.  The beautiful region that once advertised itself as a place where damaged lungs could heal and grow strong, is now a land where the citizens must limit their activity outdoors and where those whose lungs are compromised by age or health concerns are frequently advised to shelter inside their homes.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

And you, Commissioners, have the privilege and the responsibility to begin to set things right.

I and many other citizens of Colorado would ask you to give us regulations that put public health and safety first.

We ask you to go beyond:  Monitoring of oil and gas sites should extend beyond pre-production and early production phases.  New regulations for reciprocating internal combustion engines should be expanded to include engines with less than 1,000 HP.

We ask you to apply the available science:  Air monitoring regulations need to follow scientifically based guidelines such as those that have been provided to you by Colorado State Methane Emissions Program.  New technologies are being developed and there should be incentives for adopting improvements, but no tolerance for lagging behind.

We ask you to close the loop holes, the gaps, the waivers, the exceptions, and the variances:  There should be closed top storage vessels, closed loop out loading systems, no flaring and no excuses for leaks and spills. Precise language is needed to insure regulations that are actionable, measurable, enforceable, flexible where flexibility is needed, but free of the kind of vagueness that invites fluid interpretation.

We ask for transparency: Data from monitoring should be posted for easy public access.  Those who must breath the air have the right to know what is in it.

As a new grandmother, and as an individual whose family history is deeply rooted in this state,  I ask that you do your part to restore to us the blue skies and clean air that should be the legacy we leave to future generations.

*https://www.northerncoloradohistory.com/a-healthy-place-to-live/