Category Archives: AQCC

Air Quality Control Commission, the Colorado state level agency charged with developing programs about air quality standards. See
https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/aqcc and https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/aqcc-about-commission

Not to be confused with the Air Pollution Control Division, which does the actual permitting, monitoring and enforcement: see https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/apcd

To my local electeds: Why we need to monitor our local air quality

Dear reader: this is an open letter to the Fort Collins Council and Larimer County Commissioners about the need for a substantive air quality monitoring (AQM) plan for our region — because we cannot depend on the state to provide it. More importantly, the letter addresses the ultimate question of the purpose of air quality monitoring and its ultimate goal: to improve our air quality. Any rational plan for improving air quality would involve two basic steps: identifying the causes of the pollution, and, next, adopting measures to reduce or eliminate the cause. To date, the state’s AQM programs have been a regulatory failure, and the Front Range public is growing increasingly dissatisfied with them.

Because such measures could become contentious, and involve legal disputes, the quality and reliability of AQM data must be sound enough to withstand regulatory and legal scrutiny. This is a foremost requirement, and should be recognized at the outset if the ultimate goal of improving our air quality is to be achieved. Exactly what measures will need to be taken to reduce the sources of our ozone pollution are yet unknown; but identifying the exact sources of the pollution is an undeniable first step towards any effective solution.

I hope this open letter will help to inform, educate and inspire some of you to contact your own electeds as well, and ask them for the same.

Note on acronyms: AQM = Air Quality Monitoring


Dear Fort Collins City Council and Larimer County Commissioners:

We have an urgent need to improve and strength our local air quality monitoring (AQM) programs, because the efforts of the state’s AQM programs have been a regulatory failure.

Our air quality problems are a regional problem; no single city or county can effectively do much about it. Until local communities in the Front Range band together to demand, in unison and with a strategic plan, that the state take decisive action against the real source of ozone pollution, I fear it is never going to happen. I fear that Weld County, and in other O&G plays around the state, will continue to encourage the drilling of new oil and gas wells, and continue to worsen our already severe ozone pollution, until I am in my grave — unless there is a unification of the local cities and counties across the Front Range in demanding a dramatic change in state regulatory policy. I have completely lost faith in our politically hamstrung, obsequiously passive, operationally opaque, and publicly unresponsive regulatory agencies to do anything effective about our ozone problem. They have done next to nothing but pass around paper, and issue press releases that congratulate themselves about what a great job they’re doing for years. This is despite the passing of SB-181 in 2019, which supposedly gave local communities the legal authority to regulate the O&G industry.

However, SB-181 did not address air quality at all, and left the existing regulatory agencies largely intact, which have been slow to react to impacted communities. Just ask the Green Latinos organization how much they were helped in their battles with Suncor. These heavily polluted communities in Commerce City had been complaining for years to the state air quality agencies to no effect. Finally, after a dramatic failure at the refinery in 2019, there was a $9 million fine against Suncor, and part of those proceeds were used to fund a mobile Boulder AIR monitoring station there. This collected data for a year, which showed conclusively how much more polluted the air in these communities was. The Green Latinos thought this scientific data would be enough to prove to the CDPHE that more restrictions against Suncor were needed. Did the APCD and CDPHE listen?

No such luck; their requests for additional rules against Suncor’s emissions were rejected. The only change since then has been the creation of a department of Environmental Justice within the CDPHE, which sounds nice but functions little more than window dressing when it comes to tough enforcement decisions. The CDPHE marches merrily along, doing more studies, creating more task forces, and never, ever rejecting emissions permits from O&G operators. They seem to think they are doing a great job, such as the Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea
Community Health Study
. The webpage and report look great; but it changed nothing in terms of industry’s ability to get more permits and pollute more air.

If they are doing such a great job, then why are one out of three summer days now ozone alert days? What have they really done to address the “severe” category of EPA bad air quality rating? How much have the precursors that produce this ozone pollution been reduced? Is there even any mention of plan to measure these precursors?

To each of those questions the answer is a resounding “No”. Has there been any change in enforcement actions against known O&G violators? Ask EarthJustice, which has fielded an OGI camera operator in the northern Colorado area for the past several years. I recently profiled their 2023 report in this blog post: Certified Disaster: a powerful report hits home. Seeing is believing, and the OGI videos, recorded at scores of locations scattered across northern Colorado, are inescapable evidence of how O&G operators repeatedly violate their emission permits with impunity from the regulatory agency, the Air Pollution Control Division with the CDPHE.

As for a personal testimony of how just how bad the air quality in Weld Countyis and how it has ruined the quality of life for some citizens there, read this report from a local citizen: A Citizen’s Testimony.

Such powerful evidence shows how this is a regional air quality issue, not confined to a few local O&G operations.

The Existing Effort Is Not Enough

The existing air quality monitors for Fort Collins are shown its Air Quality webpage. There are six monitors inside the city limits, and two more in northern Larimer County, as shown in this screenshot:

All of these stations only monitor for ozone and particulates however:

Why is this not good enough? Because they do not indicate the ozone precursors, only the final result which is ozone. Ozone is not produced directly at the pollution source; the polluting source creates gasses known as ozone precursors, which when combined with sunlight, create surface level ozone.

Ozone precursors have two primary sources: vehicular emissions and O&G activity, which are two very different things. Any effective ozone management plan would need separate policies to address the two separate sources; no single policy can remedy both, as they will require very different approaches to reduce them. And any effective policies will need to know how much each source is responsible for its share of contributing to the ozone problem. The scientific process of identifying the respective sources is called source attribution, which is a well known and tractable problem in atmospheric chemistry. While complex, this is not unknown territory; the methods and procedures to identify these sources are known. What we lack is political will and a unified plan to address it.

In essence, what needs to happen is simple: (1) identify the source of the ozone precursors, and (2) reduce their creation at the source. While step (2) may be problematic, and politically difficult, what is not so difficult is the step (1): identification of the source. One would think this should be a no-brainer.

But this is where the state approach has been so woefully lacking. Because the O&G industry had exerted such strong control over how the state regulated them for so long, in the pre-SB-181 days, they were effectively self-regulating. And they still are, in some important respects. On average, active wells are only inspected by a state inspector every few years, because there are so few of them. All spills or emission events are self-reported by the operators. In nearly all phases of an O&G well after it has been permitted — and they have been rarely refused under the Polis administration — the drilling, the onsite operations, the fracking, and the production of fossil fuels from a well is done under a self-reporting approach.

This is why a robust air quality monitoring program — which collects scientifically valid and legally defensible data — is so needed and could be a key part of a strategic plan to reduce ozone precursors; and thereby our severe ozone pollution. The other advantage? Locally controlled AQM programs will not be under the control of the state agencies that have failed to do their job.

In fact, distrust of the state air regulatory agencies was the reason in the first place that local jurisdictions began building their own AQM stations: so that they could produce and trust their own data. Although there was never a long range plan on how to use the data constructively, there was enough public concern over their air pollution that they were built anyway. The company they contracted to build them was Boulder AIR because they are built with state of the art equipment to collect continuous, real time air quality samples, which are published on a public website within 15 minutes. They are the gold standard of air quality monitoring stations in the state. Despite their exalted reputation within the monitoring community, the CDPHE has never accepted Boulder AIR data as valid for its own policy making decisions. The reason for this has never been made clear, except for the fact that their own sensors did not generate it. In case anyone would like to inform the CDPHE: there is such a thing as learning from experience, and admitting when you are wrong. In reality, the CDPHE simply will not admit that it has no comparable data collection capability, and will continue to stubbornly resist that it would benefit the public if they would do so, but are only likely need to do so when forced by new legislation — which seems to be where this standoff is headed.

The standards and quality of the data which Boulder AIR stations collect exceeds what the state collects with its monitors. The majority of CDPHE monitors collect only ozone data. Only a minority can detect NOx at all, and even these cannot detect the difference between ozone precursors the way that Boulder AIR monitors can; and none of them publish their data automatically within a few minutes on a public-facing website, and store their data in the internet cloud. No other monitoring system’s data has been audited by the EPA and accepted into its repository for Air Quality Data Collected at Outdoor Monitors Across the US (see www.epa.gov/outdoor-air-quality-data)

Our local electeds really need more information on the comparative functionality of the various sensors that are being discussed.

Beyond understanding the differences in the how the equipment in monitoring stations works, and how that affects the quality of the data they collect, what is really lacking is a plan on what to do with this data.

What is needed: a strategic plan

What has become apparent after years of data collection by the state agencies and local jurisdictions is that none of this has been coordinated by any kind of overall strategic plan focused on the real roots of the problem. As so often occurs when the really tough questions need to be asked, there is every incentive to avoid them; or, worse yet, put political and legal roadblocks in the way of even allowing such questions to be asked. And even if they are asked, to deflect them away.

Such has been the evolution of developing legislation — any legislation — that can identify the cause of our ozone pollution, and have the teeth to really address it. This has been the political obstacle, where entrenched interests defending the O&G industry have obstructed any legislation that regulates them. Even the historic passage of SB-181 did nothing to address air pollution.

Local air quality monitoring began with Boulder County’s station at the Boulder Reservoir in 2015. Since then, it has built stations in Longmont (two), Erie and Broomfield. (The last was suspended for 2024, but Broomfield is reconsidering that decision based on recent survey; see Broomfield’s annual focus session puts … air quality in the spotlight, Daily Camera, 3/8/24) This represents a substantial investment by these local jurisdictions to get real-time, high quality data that tells them exactly what is in their air.

But is knowing what is in your air enough? Is it enough just to know to what degree your community is being slowly poisoned? For those who have personally suffered the health effects of such poisoning, the answer is obviously no; the cause should be addressed, not just the symptoms. But up to now, the only actions that have been taken by the state and local jurisdictions is to develop ‘ozone alerts’, and warn people, via text, email and social media, to not go outside.

This approach might be tolerated if the alert days were rare; but when they start to become one out of every three days during the summer months, the situation is no longer tolerable. It is becoming a chronic problem…and some kind of remediative action must be taken. How long will people tolerate inaction by our electeds on this matter? Although there has been an exceptional level of legislative action in the current term, even if all the bills dealing with ozone pollution are passed this year, they will still not get at the real root of the problem: knowing which ozone precursors are causing the problem, where the generation source is located, and which areas are being the most affected. All three of these phases of our ozone pollution problem need to be identified in order for a coherent management plan to develop. This will only be possible if there is a state-level coordinated suite of monitors, operated in a coordinated fashion, that is focused on gathering such data.

There has been some activity among the local cities that have installed Boulder AIR monitors; this deserves more coverage, as the entire region could benefit from their coordinated collaboration. This only makes sense, because the more monitors you can add to a network, it increases the value of the overall data. Just as in social media or economics, there is a “network effect” where the more nodes there are on a network, the more value of the data of each individual node.

And here is another unique advantage of the Boulder AIR data: its ability to combine its live data stream with wind vector data to construct images that can show the intensity a pollutant over a region over certain period of time. The exact interpretation of these images requires expert interpretation; but what is undeniable, is that these images are based on science-based data collected by calibrated instruments.

Here are a couple of images to suggest what is possible:

The above images suggest what is possible with Boulder AIR data: realistic two dimensional maps of pollution intensity over the nearby region of the monitoring station over a specific time period. Such information could be extremely valuable, I would think, to the jurisdictions interested in their

One caveat to the above images: they require a certain amount of highly customized work effort to produce by Boulder AIR, at the present time. However, in my opinion, these trial versions, like any trial version in a production process, could be improved upon. In my experience with software, I would see no reason why such data could not be transformed into animated images, like weather radar, given sufficient resources to accomplish the task. This is the power of combining the Boulder AIR stations data into a concerted effort: joint efforts could result in amplified benefits to all involved due to the combined nature of the data covering a wider region.

And, in the final analysis, this is what is needed for a regional approach to a regional problem: a linked network of monitoring stations capable of gathering uniformly calibrated data to produce a comprehensive picture of the problem. No other AQM technology comes even close to providing this type of comprehensive coverage for a regional area.

But asking the various local jurisdictions to continue to voluntarily coordinate efforts to share data seems wholly insufficient; which begs the question: to what end? No matter how much data we gather on how much our environment and people are being poisoned, this will never solve the problem. The only action that will solve the problem is to reduce the generation of the ozone precursors at their source.

I EXPRESS MY COMMENTS/OUTRAGE TO THE AQCC

The following are my humble comments to the AQCC about the review of Colorado’s SIP (State Implementation Plan) about our air quality before their public meeting on August 18, 2022:


Dear Colorado Air Quality Control Commission:

I would like to submit these written comments as an individual, but I wish the record to show that: 

…I have been teaching environmental economics at Front Range Community College since 2009, and continue to teach it

…I have been the webmaster for the following environmental activism organizations for the past several years:

> Larimer Alliance 

> Fort Collins Sustainability Group

>Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate

>Northern Colorado Alliance for a Livable Future

I am sure you will hear many in-depth stories and analysis at today’s hearing from others who will want to persuade you with the overwhelming scientific evidence of just how bad the air quality is in the Front Range due to ozone; and that the majority of the evidence points more to oil and gas (read: fracking) activity than to vehicular exhaust. 

Two Personal Stories

I agree with that conclusion, but want to share with you two personal stories that illustrate just how destructive this lightly regulated industry is. I personally knew each of the persons in these videos that I made myself. 

The first video is an interview with Wendy Leonard made Janurary 1, 2013:

Wendy Leonard speaking on her family’s experience with fracking

Wendy is a professional nutrutionist. In her interview, she tells the story of how her four young kids starting get sick with untreatable gastro-intestinal disorders, which started after fracking operations began near their residence in Erie. No doctor could diagnose them well enough to cure the disorder. So she and her husband decided to move to Louisville. Her kids immediately recovered. Despite this, they have since decided to move out of state, where there is no fracking, to remove her family from its harm. 

Next is Rod Bruske, a brief video I made of him in the Boulder County Courthouse, just before he was going to testify at a public meeting about fracking, made in December 2012. He lives, still, with his family on rural property on the Boulder-Weld county border: 

Rod Breuske speaks out

Rod describes how the health of his family had deteriorated, and their quality of life essentially destroyed, by fracking operations near his property, from the heavy truck traffic, loud, constant noise, and air pollution bad enough to sicken his family and his livestock. I don’t know how Rod is doing these days, but I imagine he is toughing it out still on his property, like the tough farmer that he is.

The morale of these stories is this: the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) produced from fracking, coming from prehistoric geological formations deep under the earth and never meant for contact with living human beings, are poorly understood in medical science; but can have an immediate reaction in people by reacting with their nervous system from immediate skin contact. There are many anecdotal stories like this; again, few of which are systematically recorded in this lightly regulated industry. But each story is a testament how this industry should have been more closely regulated from the start (were it not for the Halliburton Loophole).

It is not difficult to find many such stories in the Front Range. There is no definitive record, but they must surely register in the hundreds, if not thousands. All of which is nearly completely unaccounted for by regulatory agencies such as yours. 

What should be done? 

In my opinion, the AQCC needs to support the creation of regional network of air quality monitors that are continuously sampling the air, analyzing it in real time, and creating an official data of record that can be used in a robust array of regulatory needs — and defensible in court if necessary. And then using this data for robust enforcement action to stop the pollution at its source. That is the only real solution. All the public notices exclaiming about ‘bad ozone days’ are not doing us one bit of good about reducing the sources of harm.

Such monitors are the only way that we are going to learn about the true sources of our ozone precursors, what is causing them, and where they are located. The only company with such technology at the moment is Boulder AIR. I’m sure you must have heard of them, as they have at least five, maybe six, monitors, which I believe are in Boulder, Longmont, Erie, Broomfield, and perhaps Commerce City. 

What is really unbelievable is that the state of Colorado does not consider the data being collected by Boulder AIR to be “real” data! I find this simply preposterous, and am really outraged as a tax-paying, concerned citizen that the air quality regulators in my state are so blind as to make such statements, and expect the public to be ok with this. We are NOT ok with this! The data collected by Boulder AIR monitors is vastly superior to anything that the state is collecting; because the number of monitors that the state has to detect ozone precursors is precisely ZERO! They not only collect readings on ppb per billion of over a dozen chemicals, they do it in real time, and they publish their results on a public website within minutes of collection (subject, of course, to later possible data corrections, which seem rare and minor). And then the data are kept in storage indefinitely in the cloud for future research or reference.

How in the world can you expect the public to trust regulatory agencies that don’t know better data when it is so blatantly obvious? Until the state air quality regulators admit this, and starts measuring our ozone precursors, and publicly producing that data, your credibility will continue to be about where your current data are: namely pretty damn worthless and near zero in quality or credibility. The state only collects readings on ozone after it is formed, and does not even have the capability of collecting data on ozone precursors. This is a shameful dereliction of duty that calls out for correction when the technology for doing so has already been proven for years.

Please start investing in some real time, continuous air quality monitors and publicly publishing that data. Then we might start believing in you. 

Sincerely,  

Rick Casey

Fort Collins

webmaster: larimeralliance.org, larimerallianceblog.org, focosustainability.org, colivableclimate.org, ncalf.org

Greenhouse gas intensity targets: the new greenwashing?

In a recent article in the Colorado Sun (A new rule to slash oil and gas emissions.., Sept 15, 2021), a new rule adopted by the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) is described by the Polis administration as a way to dramatically cut the GHG emissions by the oil & gas industry.

The rule is based on something that is interestingly called “intensity targets”, which apparently simply means making an effort to reduce your GHG emissions, and then reporting how much GHG your company emits…and hopefully it goes down over time. There are reduction targets for 2025, 2030 and 2050, which have been announced for all the various kinds of O&G activities, from fracking to drilling to transport.

The calculation of the emissions by the companies has been developed by the AQCC, and are intended to be an incentive-based, rather than command-and-control-based, kind of regulation. In other words, the regulator does not specifically instruct the polluter how they are doing to reduce their pollution by using a specific technology; but rather suggests a reduction target, and leaves it up the polluter to reduce their pollution by any means they want.

The proposal has, unsurprisingly, been welcomed by the O&G industry. The industry has always preferred to be self-regulating, which was largely the approach taken by the Colorado legislature in the past, up until the passage of SB-181 in April 2019. That historic legislation, which took away the industry’s ability to self-regulate by specifically instructing the COGCC to stop allowing it, was a watershed in the state approach to regulating the O&G industry.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise, at least to this writer, why the AQCC wants to reverse course, and restore self-regulation to the industry that is primarily complicit in causing global climate change. The proposed rules carry no penalties if a company fails to meet its target, and there are no enforceable measures in the new rule. The big assumption is that each individual O&G operator will do their level best to meet their “intensity target”, i.e. a lower level of GHG emissions.

Gee, what could possibly go wrong?

Also unsurprisingly, the environmental community (i.e. Wildearth Guardians, the EDF, at this point) has denounced the new rule as a mistake which will one day have to be corrected. They make the undeniable point that climate change is happening now, and we no longer have the time to try out untested regulatory policies that could take years to evaluate.

The one benefit of the program, from what I can tell, is that it is the first time that a regulation is taking a wholistic approach, and forcing O&G operators to consider their entire operation, from start to finish, to see where best they can best reduce their emissions to meet their reduction targets. The “intensity” aspect of the regulation comes from the required overall calculation of total CO2-equivalent produced per unit of product processed. (The units used will vary by type of company and what it is producing or processing.) As some O&G operations can involved a complex series of operations, the calculation of their overall “GHG intensity” will be a complex process in itself.

However, if history is any guide, the lack of specific enforceable actions, and especially the lack of any penalty for not meeting their targets, does not auger glad tidings for the outcome of this rule. As the saying goes, the road to hell is littered with good intentions — and while this rule may have the best of intentions, I’m afraid it will just be allowing the fossil fuel companies off the hook, once again, and pushing us all closer to a hellish world where the climate veers more and more out of any sort of equilibrium, creating more and more misery with each passing year.

My question for the O&G GHG Roadmap

The O&G GHG Roadmap is a major policy objective of the Polis administration, as explained at https://energyoffice.colorado.gov/climate-energy/ghg-pollution-reduction-roadmap.  However, some have questioned the intentions of the administration.  Nonetheless, the CDPHE is charged with soliciting public input  on the issues, as its part in this policy action, which will happen in two meetings, on August 16 and 31, 2021.
I registered to have some public input, and sent the message below as my questions for them.
You can still register to attend the August 31 meeting; see this link.
—————————————————————-
Dear CDPHE:
One question I have as a concerned citizen is this: the current air quality monitors maintained by the CDPHE only detect the presence of ozone; but as we all know, ozone can be created from various constituent gasses.
The technology exists to measure not just ozone, but those constituent gasses as well, and it is my understanding that the technology used by BoulderAIR monitoring stations (see https://bouldair.com/) are capable of measuring these constituent gasses. This is especially important in order to determine how much of the ozone is being caused by vehicular traffic and how much is being caused by oil and gas operations.
There are five such stations already in place, operating in a coordinated fashion, providing a comprehensive picture of regional air quality in those areas, and building a legally defensible dataset of pollution sources. Would it not make sense to enlarge this network to cover the entire regions where ozone is a problem? Otherwise, how are you ever going to know the true source of this highly problematic pollution, and therefore manage the problem?
Thank you.
Sincerely,
Rick Casey
Fort Collins, CO