Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hold your Heart: More on Particulate Pollution

As if Utah's pollution isn't enough to make you gasp, recent findings now indicate that fine particle pollution is a much bigger factor in deaths from heart disease and stroke than ever thought before.

The findings, which focused on women, found that, "women living in the most polluted cities had the highest heart disease and stroke risks, while women living in the cleanest cities had the lowest."

Air pollution kills, it's a conclusion that's reported over and over now with disturbing frequency. With the science mounting, it's time to start holding our government and polluters accountable more than we ever have before.

This is our air, after all, and our future. No one, not the Bush Administration, not the coal burning power plants in our backyards, has the right to take this away from us.

Utah Choking on Pollution

The Rocky Mountain News today reports on the "unusual smog" plaguing the Salt Lake City metro region, but this pollution is, unfortunately, nothing new.

Utah has had eight straight "code red" days because of excessive fine particle pollution. What are fine particles? They consist of soot, dust, and condensed gases, and are about 1/28 the size of a human hair. These particles are responsible for thousands of premature deaths across the country. Code red means that fine particle pollution is so bad that it's unhealthy for everyone.

Photo of Utah's Unhealthy Pollution (courtesy Rush Spedden of Sandy, UT)

Utah suffers some of the worst particulate pollution in the region, most of it concentrated along the Wasatch Front and even up to Cache County and Logan. In the last several years, fine particle pollution has exceeded federal health standards on several occasions.

Part of the problem is tied to the extended inversions that keep stagnant air buttressed against the Wasatch Front and over Salt Lake City. But the weather isn't to blame. Smokestacks, tailpipes, and even woodstoves are the real culprits here.

Fine particle pollution needs to be kept in check in Utah. Eight days straight of unhealthy air is not only dangerous, but near criminal. The state of Utah is clearly failing to protect its citizens, hopefully things will change in this regard.

Monday, January 29, 2007

More on Clean Air Appointments

Almost two weeks ago, Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action reported on former Colorado Governor Bill Owens' underhanded efforts to play politics with clean air by "reappointing" three members of the Air Quality Control Commission to new, three-year terms.

The Rocky Mountain News reported on the reappointments last week, noting that Owens made the reappointments in the waning days of his administration, and before the Commissioners' terms had even ended.

This week, the epic continues. Doing some more digging, the Pueblo Chieftain reports that former Governor Owens actually made many last minute appointments, and that the "the Colorado Senate won't confirm them." As the Chieftain reports:

"I think we have an obligation to honor Bill Ritter's appointments since his swearing in," said Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden. "Some of the appointments that Bill Owens made ranged far beyond his term. Appointments are the prerogative of the sitting governor, and we're going to honor that."

From the standpoint of the Air Quality Control Commission, this is good news. Todd Hartman reported in the Rocky Mountain News that, while the Commission is low key, they make some monumental decisions. Like how to regulate mercury from coal burning power plants, a decision that involves millions of dollars in investments and very serious health risks. The Commission needs people with a background in health, in law, and, most importantly, in clean air.

And you know what? From what Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action has heard, many well qualified candidates have thrown their hat in seeking appointments to the Air Quality Control Commission. Governor Ritter can't possibly pass on the chance to appoint new members to this important Commission.

The Air Quality Control Commission could use a better balance of interests. Hopefully, for our clean air, Governor Ritter will help establish the balance that Coloradoans deserve.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

(No) More Mercury

More mercury is showing up in Colorado's waters. An article in today's Rocky Mountain News reports that unsafe mercury levels have been found in five more water bodies.

The number of Colorado water bodies with unsafe mercury contamination is now at 14 and rising
. Mercury can lead to brain damage in developing fetuses, making this contamination trend downright frightening.

At the same time, mercury pollution continues to be spewed unchecked from the smokestacks of coal burning power plants in Colorado. In fact, the majority of mercury contaminated waters are located in southwestern Colorado, where a cluster of coal burning power plants chug away. What's more, coal burning power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States.

Like Mercury himself, the Roman God of Speed, this situation should send a swift message that mercury reductions from coal burning power plants are needed, and needed soon.

Fortunately, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission is mulling a decision to do just that. Unfortunately, of the proposals on the table, only one actually calls for straight-up mercury reductions from coal burning power plants across the state. The other proposals rely on a cap and trade system, a dangerous proposal that would actually allow increased mercury contamination.

Mercury is not a commodity, it's a poison that needs to be taken out of our air, out of our water, and out of our lives. The Air Quality Control Commission is set to make a decision on mercury in February, hopefully they'll do the right thing for Colorado's children.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

CEMEX Lies Put People at Risk

It's one thing to poison the air that families and children breath. It's another thing to lie about it.

Yet that's exactly what CEMEX is doing right now. Remember now, last December CEMEX was fined $1.5 million for thousands of violations of clean air laws at its Lyons, Colorado cement plant.

Now, in a mass mailer sent recently by cement plant manager Steve Goodrich to residents of Lyons and the surrounding community, CEMEX is telling people:

"It is important to underscore that the alleged violations did not involve any emissions that created any threats to the public health or the environment."

There's really no other way to put it, but CEMEX is lying. But don't let us explain. Just take a look at what the state of Colorado said itself:

In a 2005 notice of violation, the state of Colorado reported:

  • CEMEX failed to operate the kiln such that the gas temperature at the inlet of the kiln PMCD [particulate matter control device] does not exceed the maximum applicable temperature limit on approximately 72,067 occasions during 2004, and exceeded the maximum allowable temperature at the inlet of the alkali bypass PMCD on approximately 368 times during 2004 [.]
  • As a result of these temperature exceedances, CEMEX exceeded the D/F [dioxin/furan limit] of .20 ng [nanograms] per dscm [dry standard cubic meter] in excess of 72,000 occasions during 2004.

Then, in a 2006 notice of violation, the state of Colorado reported:

  • CEMEX failed to operate the kiln such that the gas temperature at the inlet or the kiln PMCD does not exceed the maximum applicable temperature limit on 72 separate days during the periods form March 2003 through December 2003 and January 2005 through December 2005, and exceeded the maximum allowable temperature at the inlet of the alkali bypass PMCD on 25 separate days during these periods[.]
  • As a result of these temperature exceedances, CEMEX exceeded the dioxin/furan limit of .20 ng per dscm on 97 separate days.

What does this all mean? It means that CEMEX violated limits on dioxin emissions over 72,000 times between 2003 and 2005. I'm not sure what planet Steve Goodrich lives on, but last time we checked, dioxins are one of the most toxic compounds known to exist, and a threat to human health.

But this also means CEMEX refuses to come clean with the local community. And when polluters don't come clean, they get shut down. No one wants a liar for a neighbor, especially a liar poisoning the air we breathe.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Tri-State Coal Monster

Even though we know that burning more coal will destroy the lungs of children and seniors, contaminate our water with mercury and other toxins, and fuel the disaster of global climate change, Tri-State Generation and Transmission is moving forward to burn more coal in Colorado and the surrounding region.

This is scary.

Tri-State is already one of Colorado's largest polluters. The amount of nitrogen oxides annually released by it's coal burning power plant in Craig, Colorado equals the amount released by nearly 2,000,000 cars. Nitrogen oxides not only contribute to acid rain, but react with sunlight to form smog.

Despite Tri-State's dubious distinction, it wants to burn more coal at its Craig power plant. The proposal, which is open for public comment right now, would lead to increases in toxic carbon monoxide gases and fine particulates that are small enough to reach the bottoms of our lungs.

And unfortunately, Tri-State doesn't want to stop there. In addition to burning more coal at Craig, Tri-State is proposing to build three new coal burning power plants in Kansas and southeastern Colorado. That's three new and huge sources of acid rain, smog, carbon dioxide, mercury....well, you see the grim picture.

Tri-State claims it needs to meet increasing power demand. Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action will be the first to say that meeting power demand shouldn't come at the expense of our lungs, our air, our water, and our future. This is not an acceptable sacrifice.

Besides, Tri-State has a myriad of alternative energy sources available. Already, wind is being harnessed in southeastern Colorado to generate power. There's no reason Tri-State can't do the same.

A wind farm near Lamar, Colorado.

Sadly though, Tri-State has rejected pleas to invest in renewable energy. This raises a serious question. Is Tri-State really looking to generate more power or is the company simply a coal monster terrorizing our clean air and our communities?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Former Governor Plays Politics With Clean Air

In a last minute, underhanded move, former Colorado Governor Bill Owens reappointed three members of the Air Quality Control Commission whose terms were set to expire on January 31st.

The former Governor made the reappointments in the waning minutes of his rejected Administration and without any public announcement. Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action was informed about the reappointments just this week, over two weeks after-the-fact.

Bill Owens has always put politics ahead of public health, but his latest effort is like a stick in the eye for Colorado citizens. Last November, people overwhelmingly voted Bill Ritter into office and with him, an agenda to promote clean air and healthy communities.

Owens' agenda has always been to promote polluters at the expense of clean air. The three reappointed commissioners--Bob Brady, Jim Evans, and Chris Neumann--all have close ties to industry. They favored industrial interests in their deliberations and usually voted for weaker clean air safeguards during their tenure. Chris Neumann has been outright hostile toward those seeking stronger clean air rules and greater polluter accountability.

The Air Quality Control Commission sets clean air policy for Colorado. With the reappointments, the pro-polluter agenda will continue to reign, against the will of Colorado citizens. The fact that Owens made these reappointments with no public notice or announcement makes this all the more outrageous and insulting.

The appointments now go to the Colorado Senate for confirmation, but it would really be a shame if they went that far. People voted for Bill Ritter, not Bill Owens. It's disturbing enough that Owens was able to reappoint members of the Air Quality Control Commission in secret and at the last minute.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Particulate Monitors Scrapped

In a move that's sure to put the health of communities in Colorado at greater risk, the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division has scrapped 17 particulate pollution monitors in the state, including monitors in Delta and Gunnison.

Annually, particulate pollution contributes to thousands of premature deaths in the United States. Particulates also aggravate asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory ailments. The state of Colorado claims the monitors are no longer needed because air quality has improved in these areas, but this is no reason to remove air quality monitors.

Even if our air is clean today, that doesn't mean it will always be clean. Case in point is Alamosa, Colorado. Although particulate pollution in Alamosa remained below unhealthy levels between 1996 and 2005, health standards for particulate pollution were exceeded on 7 days in 2006.

Monitoring isn't just needed where air quality is unhealthy. Even in areas with good air quality, monitoring is needed to ensure that it stays that way, to make sure that communities are healthy, not just today, but for years to come. Clean air needs to be kept in check.

A drill rig in Wyoming's Red Desert spews black particulate pollution.

This sensible approach is especially needed in the face of booming oil and gas development in Colorado. With the influx of oil and gas drilling, particulate pollution is on the rise. Communities with clean air today could very well face the prospect of unhealthy air tomorrow.

The Colorado Air Pollution Control Division should rethink its decision to scrap particulate monitors, especially in light of looming threats to clean air from unchecked oil and gas development.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

In With the New

The new guard is taking over in Colorado and things are looking brighter for clean air.

First off, with Margie Perkins, the former Director of the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, off to retirement, Paul Tourangeau is stepping up to fill Margie's shoes. And while those may be some big shoes to fill, Paul so far seems up to the challenge.

But things are early yet and Paul still has some baggage to deal with. An appointee of former Colorado Governor Bill Owens, a vocal opponent of stronger clean air regulations, Paul also formerly worked with Duke Energy, one of the largest utilities in the country.

In light of his past, will Paul stand up for the health of Colorado communities and resist industry opposition to clean air?

Before answering that question, perhaps its best to take a look at the next of the new guard: Jim Martin, the newly appointed head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Paul Tourangeau's potential new boss.

Jim Martin, the newly appointed head of the
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Described as a "breath of fresh air" (which, by the way, is the name of Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action's monthly e-newsletter), Jim Martin was appointed Friday by incoming Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to oversee the Department of Public Health and Environment, and with it, the Air Pollution Control Division.

With the appointment of Jim Martin, the winds of change are gusting at the Department of Public Health and Environment. Described as "a widely respected environmental advocate known for his bridge-building, work ethic and mastery of pollution and energy issues," this isn't the half of it. While he is currently the Executive Director of Western Resource Advocates, a Colorado-based western conservation group, his allegiance doesn't seem to be with "environmentalists" or "activists:: it's with Colorado. And with clean air being a keystone value in Colorado, Jim's appointment seems a perfect fit.

Even industry described Jim as a "well-seasoned and balanced appointee for the health department." All the same, incoming Governor Bill Ritter appears to have held true to his commitment to protecting clean air with the appointment of Jim Martin.

So, will Paul Tourangeau stand up for the health of Colorado communities and resist industry opposition to clean air? We're hopeful he will, and with Jim Martin as his boss, he certainly may have the backing to do the right thing.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Clean Air Champions Move On (Hopefully Not Away)

As many may know, two clean air champions in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region are moving on. Dick Long, head of the air program for Region 8 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Margie Perkins, the Director of the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, are both moving on to retirement.

The Rocky Mountain News reports on Dick's retirement today, noting "Long has stood out, willing to say what he thinks needs to be said, whatever the political inconvenience." We couldn't agree more. While working within the confines of the EPA for the last 11 years--at times an extremely onerous bureaucracy--Dick has pushed for what's best for clean air in the Rockies, even in the face of political resistance and overwhelming bureaucratic inertia. In many cases, he got what he wanted. Or more accurately, he got what was needed for clean air and our health.

Dick Long was often a bitter pill to swallow for western states leery of federal oversight and intervention. Hardly the jackbooted agent, Dick simply made sure states protected their citizens, as the Clean Air Act requires and as we deserve. Although he was willing to give considerable leeway for state governments to craft creative solutions to air pollution problems, he knew where to draw the line. For those of us living in the west, where many elected officials often hide behind "states' rights" rhetoric to oppose environmental regulation, even at the expense of clean air, his oversight truly helped us all breathe easier.

The Rocky Mountain News, unfortunately, did not report on the retirement of Margie Perkins, nor has the Denver Post for that matter. That's too bad, because Margie's impact on clean air and on our communities in Colorado has been tremendous as well.

Margie has been at the helm of the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division since 1996, serving the longest of any former Director. Always straightforward and set on her goals, Margie has made a huge difference for clean air, often within the confines of a state government hostile to environmental regulation.

While pragmatic, Margie was not afraid to lay down the law with her superiors, including many former Executive Directors of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Air Quality Control Commissioners. Unlike many environmental regulators, Margie always seemed to have a plan for clean air that spanned beyond what most can see. While she picked her battles, she kept things on course. Her strategies were meticulous, yet in many ways basic, and meant that the big wins were never out of reach.

A steadfast advocate for the protection of healthy communities, Margie is the kind of Director that citizens in other western states can only dream of. Neither beholden to the Democrats nor the Republicans, she served only in the best of interest of Colorado citizens. And for 10 years, she's endured.

As advocates for clean air, we often view the world in a sort of tunnel vision, always focused on our goals and our mission. This focus is important, but we need to always take a look around to make sure we're headed down the right path to the end of the tunnel. Margie and Dick have both have helped us take that look around. They've helped us realize we need to watch our step as we make our way toward the end of the tunnel.

Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action heartily applauds Dick Long and Margie Perkins for their dedication and commitment to clean air and healthy communities, and their public service. Although at times, we haven't always agreed with Margie or Dick, they deserve our respect and admiration for the legacy of clean air they have left. Here's wishing you both the best as you move on, but hopefully not away!