Ozone levels could spur stricter action

Environment with Ean

Ean Thomas Tafoya
Posted 1/8/20

Happy new year and welcome to the third installment of this column on local and state environmental policy. Please remember that this new decade is the most important for the future of the planet. We …

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Ozone levels could spur stricter action

Environment with Ean


Happy new year and welcome to the third installment of this column on local and state environmental policy. Please remember that this new decade is the most important for the future of the planet. We must make significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions if we hope to reduce the warming of our planet and the devastating impacts of the climate crisis.

December was a month of action for environmental activists. Indigenous, Latinx, and environmental leaders gathered to protest Suncor Energy as a sponsor of the Denver Sustainability Summit.

Another Youth Climate Strike was observed across the globe and drew Coloradans to the Capitol to demand climate action. Trials of several Extinction Rebellion members stemming from the Black Friday traffic disruption near Cherry Creek were delayed following a clash between officials and supporters of the group.

Lastly, the Colorado Latino Forum, which I co-chair, and their allies took swift action in response to an incident at the Suncor Commerce City Refinery that rained down a yellow clay dust on the surrounding communities and forced the lockdown of neighboring schools. Suncor claims that the substance was a harmless clay and offered free car washes, however clay has the ability to bind to other substances and we are awaiting official results from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. In the meantime the state is pursuing action for air quality violations by the corporation.

In other air quality related news, the Environmental Protection Agency under the rules of the Clean Air Act downgraded the Front Range to Serious Nonattainment for Ozone levels in the nine-county region. The region has missed the mark for the past 15 years, and will require the state to do more to improve the air, which will likely mean additional regulation of businesses. The EPA has given us until 2021 to comply with national standards. The next step, Severe Nonattainment, would trigger additional intervention by state agencies. Having attended Regional Air Quality Commission and Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) hearings and followed along with our State Implementation Plan, a rulebook towards compliance, I do not have high hopes that we aren’t headed to a severe rating. Our car culture continues to grow and according to the Colorado Business Economic Outlook for 2020 from the University of Colorado, the oil and gas industry expects record output. Emissions from the processing and use of fossil fuels for transportation and energy are major players in the ozone problem, and this doesn’t account for those that are exposed to the toxic chemicals associated with the industry — see Suncor violations or Bella Romero.

Speaking of the AQCC, in December they held public hearings throughout the state on new rules and regulations of the oil and gas industry proposed by Air Pollution Control Division of CDPHE. Most of the rules target the reduction of methane and other hydrocarbon leaks for air quality.

For the past few years Denver Water and CDPHE have been in negotiations about the best course of action to prevent lead from entering your drinking water and eventually you. Lead is a particularly dangerous for brain development and has been linked to a whole host of medical problems. Water utilities are required to have an Optimal Corrosion Control Treatment Plan under the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule. The crux of the issue is that there are several ways to prevent lead from leaching from pipes into water and this battle was over which chemicals to use to treat the problem. At first CDPHE sought to add organophosphates to the water, which essentially coat the inside of pipe and prevent lead from leaching. However, phosphates in river water spur the growth of algae, which can lead to serious environmental and health consequences. To prevent these issues water utilities would have to spend resources to remove the chemicals before discharging them back into the South Platte River. Another solution, which Denver Water pursued, is to lower the pH of water, which reduces the ability of water to dissolve elements like lead. The EPA granted a three-year variance to implement this strategy. Denver Water, has identified the homes that are serviced by lead pipes, and has a 15 year plan to replace all lead service lines in systems and will be providing free water filters that are certified to remove lead to all customers with lead service lines until their line is replaced, and for six months beyond. Some advocates question the timeline of replacement and they believe that more resources should be used to address this problem as quickly as possible. For more info email lead@denverwater.org

Editor’s note: To read Life on Capitol Hill’s story on Denver Water’s lead pipe replacement plan, go to https://lifeoncaphill.com/stories/denver-water-proposes-removal-of-lead-pipes,283176?.

If water quality and toxins interests you I would recommend attending a forum produced by Colorado Advocates For Toxin Education on Jan. 18th. The event features Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a nationally recognized expert on the damage done to all of us, especially children, from exposure to very low levels of lead and other toxins found in our environment. More information visit DenverCATE.com

Here is some brief coverage of two legislative bills that have to do with empowering local communities.

Removing Plastic Preemption — Removing barriers for local jurisdictions to enact rules and regulations over the use and sales of plastics within their jurisdiction boundaries. Eco-cycle, Environment Colorado, and COPIRG are part of larger waste coalition pushing this bill. I mentioned earlier that this would empower local communities to ban plastic bags as an example.

Removing Pesticide Preemption — Removing barriers for local jurisdictions to enact rules and regulations over the use and application of pesticides within their jurisdiction boundaries. People and Pollinators Action Network is the driving force behind this bill. If this bill passes there is talk of local toxin advocates bringing forth a citizen’s ballot initiative to ban use on school grounds and in parks.

Ean Thomas Tafoya is a climate and government activist. He can be reached at @BelieveEan on Twitter.


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