The Colorado Sun misses the mark

or how the public continues to be confused over why our air pollution worsens…

This was a letter I sent to the Colorado Sun today in reaction to a misleading article about our ozone pollution is self-explanatory:

Re: the 7/9/24 story on “…hunt down one Colorado county’s toxic ozone producers” (by Michael Booth)

Dear Mr. Booth:

I am a subscribing member of the Colorado Sun, and am thankful that we have a reporter like you covering stories about the environment and regulatory enforcement. 

However, the story that was published today “Researchers are surveilling land, air and space to hunt down one Colorado county’s toxic ozone producers” is somewhat misleading. If you are seeking to inform the public about the most effective ways in which to identify the sources of ozone in Weld County, please read on. 

It is all well and good that Coloradoans are getting the assistance of federal agencies like NOAA’s aircraft and NASA’s satellites to help identify the worst sources of ozone precursors from O&G operations in Weld County. I have no doubt they will help…somewhat.

However, they will be one-time operations, which will not be a persistent tool that can be counted on to help us, month in and month out. The FRIPPE study which NOAA conducted back in 2014 was their last effort to assist Colorado in identifying the source of ozone precursors. It proved that O&G and vehicular exhaust both contribute, but did little to pinpoint specific operators in Weld County. Perhaps their efforts this time will do that; we shall see. 

What is needed, though, is a permanent, on-going ground-based monitoring effort, which is measuring our air quality on a continuous basis. The instruments need to be reliable enough on which to base a strong regulatory program that includes provisions for regulatory enforcement actions, including cease-&-desist orders. The technology for doing this certainly exists, and has been put into use in Boulder County, Longmont, Erie and Broomfield (Commerce City had one for a year around 2021 but closed it down for reasons discussed below). The state regulatory agency that is in charge of monitoring our air quality, and enforcing regulatory action, is the APCD (Air Pollution Control Division) within the CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment). 

It should interest us to learn why these four jurisdictions decided to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to build their own air quality monitoring stations. They did so, starting in 2017, because of the distrust of these state agencies and the sincerity of their efforts; perhaps basic competency may have played a part as well. When the O&G industry had controlled the regulatory environment in this state for over half a century, it tends to have an effect on how well funded such regulatory efforts are. While SB-181, the historic law passed in 2019, did fundamentally change the mission of those regulations, there was nothing in that law that changed how much funding went into those regulatory changes; and certainly nothing about air quality monitoring. It is a problem that still needs to be corrected.

Unfortunately, the investment by these Front Range communities has not resulted in any improvement in our ozone pollution problem over the years. Why not? Shouldn’t this improved monitoring, and an abundance of data, have resulted in changes in state regulatory action? 

Sad to say, it has not. There has not been one iota of reduction in emissions pollution. In fact, dozens of violations of emission permits have been documented by Earthworks, filmed in action by their OGI field operators, all of which were submitted to the APCD, which has seldom taken any action to contact the operators about them. 

This lack of enforcement action by the APCD/CDPHE is slowly being recognized as the real impediment to progress on these environmental crimes. This was why the Green Latinos, who were instrumental in the acquisition of the continuous monitoring station that was in operation in Commerce City for a year around 2021, decided to shut it down. Even though they could have continued to operate it, they decided not to do so because their data was effectively ignored by these state agencies. Their refusal to continue to monitor should be recognized as a sign of protest against injustice: the injustice of these regulatory agencies to do their job, which is to protect our environment against such polluters. 

The Larimer Alliance, with whom I volunteer, has been trying to get a continuous monitoring station here in Larimer County. We want to understand where our ozone precursors are originating, which we strongly suspect are coming mostly from Weld County. If we can get a continuous monitoring station installed, and begin to quantify those precursors, we feel confident we will have the scientific data to prove this. 

But it will be of little avail if the state regulatory agencies do nothing with the data. And that will be our next political barrier to overcome, before we start to make progress on curbing our extreme ozone pollution. 


Rick Casey 


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