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Environmental groups sue EPA

Shared from the 2/20/2020 The Denver Post eEdition

OIL AND GAS POLLUTION PLAN By Judith Kohler
The Denver Post

Two environmental groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for what they say is a failure to ensure that required plans are in place to protect Colorado’s Front Range from pollution produced by oil and gas operations.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Environmental Health filed a complaint Wednesday in federal court in Northern California that adds the Denver area to a lawsuit saying the EPA has missed deadlines for approving state plans targeting oil and gas emissions. The Colorado plan covers a nine-county swath in the Denver area and to the north along the Front Range that has violated federal air quality standards for years.

In December, the EPA downgraded the area from being a “moderate” violator of the standards to a “serious” violator, which will require stricter controls. But Robert Ukeiley, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the lawsuit addresses the plan the state submitted as a response to the less serious designation.

Ukeiley said then-Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration submitted the plan in May 2018 and the EPA’s deadline for approving or rejecting the plan was Nov. 14, 2019. He said the agency didn’t respond to his organization’s earlier notice that it intended to sue.

The EPA will evaluate the complaint, Richard Mylott, the spokesman for the agency’s regional office in Denver, wrote in an email. “EPA’s recent action to reclassify the Denver area to serious nonattainment reflects our commitment to work with Colorado to address ozone emissions across all sources contributing to impaired air quality,” said Mylott, adding that the new designation will require new categories of controls on emissions.

The EPA’s approval of Colorado’s plan for tackling the ozone pollution problem along the Front Range is more than a bureaucratic exercise, Ukeiley said.

“The value of the plan is to protect us from the pollution,” Ukeiley said. “If the EPA disapproves the rules, the state will have to make them better or the EPA will create its own rules.”

If the EPA approves the rules and the public doesn’t believe they’re strong enough, “at least we can go to court and challenge that approval,” Ukeiley added.

“Delay in implementing these protections leads to more cases of asthma,” Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health, said in a statement.

Emissions from oil and gas operations as well as vehicles are major sources of ground-level ozone, which can trigger such health problems as asthma and other respiratory ailments.

Heat and sunlight bake pollutants, including some of the chemicals emitted by oil and gas operations, to form ozone, or smog. Weld County, portions of which are in the area out of compliance with the ozone standard, has nearly 22,000 of the state’s roughly 53,000 active wells.

State regulators through the years have tightened regulations on drilling along the Front Range, including establishing the first state regulations for methane emissions in 2014. Stronger air quality regulations are among the rules the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the state Air Quality Control Commission are writing to implement a new law revamping how oil and gas are regulated.

 

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