Friday, March 30, 2007

Letter to the Editor

Duke Cox, Silt, Colorado resident and President of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, hits the nail on the head.

Walk for Health on April 3rd

Next week is National Public Health Week and to promote the occasion, Colorado Lieutenant Governor Barbara O'Brien is going to lead a walk on April 3rd from the Denver Health headquarters at 8th and Bannock to the west steps of the Capitol building. According to a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment news release, the walk starts at midday and culminates with a noon ceremony at the Capitol.

Members of the public are invited to attend, so if you have time, please come along. National Public Health Week is an important time to recognize the efforts of citizens, public interest groups, public health officials, and others to address health issues.

National Public Health Week is also an important time for all of us to foster our partnerships and better collaborate toward meeting the many challenges facing our health. Hope to see you next Tuesday!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Excess Emissions

If you've ever been pulled over for speeding, have you ever tried to argue that you weren't actually "violating" the speed limit, just speeding "excessively"? If you have, you've probably found that the cop didn't care whether you called it excess speed or a violation of the speed limit. The simple fact of the matter was you were speeding.

Things are different if you're a polluter, though. Even if you violate air pollution limits in your permit, it's not necessarily a "violation."

It could just be "excess emissions." Even if it's a "violation." If this sounds absurd, it's because it is.

Just look at the "excess emissions" reported by Colorado polluters in 2006. In the 1st quarter, 2nd quarter, 3rd quarter, and 4th quarters, there were a total of 4,278 hours of "excess emissions." Basically, polluters violated their pollution limits for almost half of the entire year.

That's not all. In the 4th quarter of 2006, there were over 2,500 hours of "excess emissions" reported, most by the Holcim cement plant near Florence, Colorado. The cement plant violated limits on toxic, volatile organic compound pollution for 2,166 hours, or 99.5% of the time.

Other major "excess emission" polluters from 2006 include:
  • The Suncor oil refinery in Denver, which reported 154 hours-or over 6 days-of sulfur dioxide pollution violations in the 2nd quarter of 2006;
  • Xcel's Arapahoe power plant in south Denver, which reported 80 hours of carbon monoxide pollution violations in the 3rd quarter of 2006;
  • The Rocky Mountain steel mill in Pueblo, which reported 168 hours of carbon monoxide violations in the 2nd quarter and 168 hours of nitrogen oxide pollution violations in the 3rd quarter.

Despite all these violations, the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division doesn't seem to have taken any enforcement action to hold these polluters accountable to clean air and public health.

30 miles per hour means 30 miles per hour for you and I. But for polluters in Colorado, 30 miles per hour apparently means 30 miles per hour...part of the time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Saving Kids from Air Pollution

The Mothers for Clean Air Colorado have formed recently to safeguard children from air pollution, especially air pollution from vehicle traffic.

Study after study after study after study has found that kids living or going to school near busy highways are often denied the healthy future they deserve. Some of these studies are posted on the Mothers' website.

The issue is a no-brainer; who could possibly be opposed to helping kids have a healthy future? Well, our assertion may be put to the test here soon.

The Colorado legislature is considering HB-1293, a bill that would keep schools safe from air pollution
. The bill makes sense. We protect kids from violence and drugs in schools; why not protect them from air pollution?

HB-1293 should sail through the Colorado legislature. Then again, some members of the Colorado legislature are trying to thwart efforts to protect people from air pollution coming from oil and gas development.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Yes in My Backyard

This American Life has been a staple of our weekend unwinding for years. The once-a-week, hour-long radio show is probably the most entertaining, inspiring, and impacting radio show on the air right now. It's never been a let down, not once.

Recently, This American Life featured a story entitled "Yes in My Backyard," the story of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency cracking down on chocolate emissions in the air from a local chocolate factory in Chicago. Yes, that's right, chocolate emissions. If only some communities could be so lucky.

People liked these dreamy emissions. But it doesn't end there. While the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency cracked down on these chocolate factories, at the same time they turned their back on illegal, toxic air pollution from dozens of coal burning power plants in the state. It's the classic double standard that the state and federal government often plays. Come down hard on the small polluters, and let the big fish off the hook. The intensity of enforcement of our clean air laws is often indirectly proportional to the size of the polluter.

Sure, a violation of clean air laws is a violation. But if you were a cop, wouldn't you rather get the drunk driver plowing down the freeway at 120 miles per hour instead of ticketing people for jaywalking?

If you don't already, you should listen to This American Life--always.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Toxic Pollution Data Released

The Environmental Protection Agency released toxic release inventory data from 2005 yesterday. The data shows what toxic chemicals are dumped in our water, on land, and in our air. Nearly 35% of all the toxic releases were in our air.

And on the air front, things aren't looking good. Toxic air pollution increased by 116.9 million pounds, or 3%, between 2004 and 2005. Rising toxic air pollution is never good news.

Here in the Rocky Mountains, toxic air pollution actually decreased in New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, while it increased in Colorado by nearly 2%, or around 39,000 pounds. Colorado does rank 42nd in the country in terms of toxic air pollution, so things could be worse. At the same time, things could be better--a lot better.

Making things worse, toxic air pollution is actually much higher in all the Rocky Mountain states. Remember, the oil and gas industry is exempted from reporting its toxic air emissions. So while toxic pollution from oil and gas developments in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming continues to rise, posing serious public health threats, the oil and gas industry doesn't have to report a thing.

This is yet one more reason why we feel comfortable labeling the oil and gas industry the air pollution king of the Rocky Mountain region.

Boxer Slams Inhofe, Johnson Prays for Clean Air

Senator Barbara Boxer, now chair of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, put the smackdown on Senator James Inhofe. Inhofe was bullying Al Gore, who was there testifying on the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Inhofe is an industry slut who used to chair the Environment and Public Works Committee. Under his reign, he rolled back clean air laws and chastised public health concerns. Last summer, he railed against the EPA for using infrared cameras to detect smog forming pollution north of Denver. Even the Rocky Mountain News had to call a time out on that one.

Boxer, of course, is getting mad props from everyone.

Pray for clean air? The Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen Johnson, is. Check out the video.

I can’t imagine doing this [job] without the Lord,” Johnson says. Of Christian Embassy, Johnson says, “it is not only reassuring and refreshing, but it’s essential.”Johnson adds that “I don’t know of any other organization that would get up, come into my office at 6:15 in the morning to have a Bible study.”

Johnson's eagerness to welcome Christian Embassy into his office came as a surprise to many clean air groups who have been having difficulty getting appointments with the Administrator to discuss policy and actions.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Denver's Dirty Little Secret

It's time for the city of Denver to come clean.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Local Officials Want Five Oil Refineries

It's bad enough that one oil refinery may be built in Green River, Utah, but local officials there must love the stink and air pollution from oil refineries because they want five.

At least the local residents there have a better understanding of just how disastrous an oil refinery could be to the health of their community. As one resident commented, "the jobs the refineries may provide aren’t worth the health problems the plants could create."

That seems to be the case in every other community with an oil refinery in the United States. The fact that local officials in Green River would be happy to have five refineries isn't just worrisome, it's sickening.

Green River, Utah is the gateway to southern Utah's canyonlands; the last thing this town needs is an oil refinery. While local officials there claim the pollution from any refinery will just "blow away," we hope that the plans for a new refinery blow away first.

Friday, March 16, 2007

More on Toxic Ponds

The Bureau of Land Management says it will consider applications by oil and gas companies to build toxic evaporation ponds on public lands. The statement comes in response to concerns voiced by citizens in DeBeque, Colorado that toxic evaporation ponds would be built within yards of their homes.

Of course, nobody wants a toxic evaporation pond anywhere near their home, but putting these ponds on public lands really isn't a solution. Sure, it may get the ponds away from the most populated areas, but what about the hikers, the hunters, and the families that use public lands for recreation?

The issue of siting is important, but really the debate needs to start focusing on doing it right. Doing it right means protecting clean air and peoples' health no matter where the ponds are located.

Let's look at a similar situation--sewage. You don't see very many sewage lagoons these days, especially in populated areas. That's because sewage is typically not treated in open lagoons, but in wastewater treatment facilities.

Oil and gas wastewater should be treated the same way. Rather than sticking the water in ponds to evaporate and release toxic fumes, it should be put into a treatment system where both the air and water pollution can be controlled.

We don't let sewage evaporate in open ponds in our neighborhoods. There's no reason to allow toxic oil and gas wastewater to evaporate in our neighborhoods, either.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Oil and Gas Industry Has Itself to Blame

The oil and gas industry in Colorado should have known this day would come.

After years of destroying people's land, contaminating our water, and polluting our air, the oil and gas industry's chicken is coming home to roost in the form of several reform bills. The bills, which seek to hold the oil and gas industry accountable to clean air, clean water, landowners, and wildlife are sailing through the Colorado legislature on the winds of citizen and community support.

In a frenzy, the oil and gas industry is now complaining to Governor Ritter that the reforms are "piecemeal" and threaten to "slow" development. In a classic attempt at stonewalling, industry now wants to delay reform.

Just like their air pollution, industry's attempt to gain sympathy makes us a bit nauseous.

The reform bills promise to help establish a better balance between development, our health, and our rights. By any measure, the reform bills simply encourage industry to do it right. The bills are a sensible response to years of industry doing it wrong.

As far as slowing down development goes, this really misses the point. According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, just between 2003 and 2006, drilling increased by:
  • 132% in Garfield County
  • 237% in Yuma County
  • 134% in Rio Blanco County
  • 390% in Mesa County
  • 130% in La Plata County
Just like speed limits, the goal is to set a safe speed, which leads us to the question: Is oil and gas development proceeding at a safe speed in Colorado? We don't think so.

The reform bills may be a bitter pill to swallow for industry, but for the rest of Colorado they're a welcome relief. If the oil and gas industry doesn't like it, they have only themselves to blame.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Cutting Through the Smoke

The state of Colorado has taken important steps to reduce smog forming pollution from oil and gas development in the Denver metro region. Unfortunately, massive sources of smog forming pollution have yet to do anything to protect people from smog--coal burning power plants.

In practically every other region of the United States dealing with smog pollution, coal burning power plants have had to cut nitrogen oxide emissions to protect people from smog. In Denver, that has yet to happen.

Working with the state, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other public interest groups, Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action is working to change that. Through the Saving Our Health From Smog Plan, coal burning power plants would have to cut smog forming pollution by 53% during the summertime smog season.

The coal burning power plants affected would include Arapahoe in south Denver, Cherokee in north Denver, the Valmont in Boulder, Pawnee in Morgan County, and the Rawhide Energy Station north of Fort Collins.

Denver is on the verge of violating health standards for smog, putting children, seniors, those with asthma, and those who are active outdoors at great risk. We need to cut smog forming pollution from coal burning power plants to make sure our health is fully protected today and years to come (this is cross posted on Denver Ozone).

Friday, March 09, 2007

Shortchanging Clean Air: An Update

Oil and gas development in Colorado is straining the Air Pollution Control Division and posing an inordinate threat to clean air and our health. Smog levels are rising, our air is getting hazier (especially in our National Parks and wilderness areas), and health is on the decline. All the while, the Air Pollution Control Division is losing out on nearly $3,000,000 annually because it charges polluters less than half of what the Clean Air Act requires.

What is the oil and gas industry's response to all this? "So what?"

Fortunately, the state's response is a bit more...well, responsive, but not by much.

Christopher Dann, a spokesperson says the state is not closed off to the idea of raising pollution fees, but that there are "nuances" in the existing fee program. What these nuances are, he doesn't explain.

The state also explains to us that the Environmental Protection Agency has had "favorable" comments about Colorado's fees, which is little consolation for those of us who like to breath clean air.

Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action recently joined in submitting a letter to Congress highlighting seven major Environmental Protection Agency rollbacks of the Clean Air Act. Needless to say, when it comes to clean air, it's hard to trust the Environmental Protection Agency these days. The agency's agenda seems more favorable to polluters, an agenda the state of Colorado might do best to disassociate itself from.

Regardless, there's a window of opportunity here and we sincerely hope the state of Colorado takes advantage of it. $3 million is a good chunk of change, and with the backing of the Clean Air Act, there's no reason we should be losing out on this potential revenue. We're playing catch up when it comes to air pollution from oil and gas. Well, here's one way we might be able to do that.

Shortchanging Clean Air in the Rockies

Smog Forming Emissions Spew From a Tank at a Natural Gas Well

A recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project shows that the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division is losing out on nearly $3 million annually. The reason? Polluters are paying bargain fees in the state. In fact, Colorado charges polluters less than half what federal law requires. All the while, our air is getting smoggier and hazier.

This could not be more apparent when it comes to oil and gas drilling, the largest and fastest growing source of air pollution in our state.

Since 2003, the pace of oil and gas drilling has increased threefold across Colorado. Oil and gas developments spew massive amounts of air pollution, especially smog forming volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. In the Denver metro area, we are now on the verge of violating health standards for smog because of unchecked oil and gas drilling. Since 1999, drilling has increased by over 20%.

In western Colorado, the pace of oil and gas drilling has increased by over 90% in some counties just in the last year. Oil and gas developments are now the single largest source of smog forming pollution in most western counties. Over 6,000 drilling permits were issued for Colorado in 2006, a record. By 2018, smog forming emissions are expected to more than double in the state.

Our health is on the line, yet the state charges air pollution fees that are less than half of what is required by the Clean Air Act. Currently, we charge polluters $13.54 per ton of air pollution released. The Clean Air Act requires states charge a fee of at least $39.48 per ton of pollution.

By undercharging polluters, we're now losing out on nearly $3,000,000 annually. This has led to serious shortcomings in the state’s ability to keep air pollution from oil and gas developments in check. For example, we have learned that:

  • Many with the Air Pollution Control Division are leaving to work for industry because the state can’t pay enough;

  • In Denver, the state lacks the resources needed to adequately inspect oil and gas developments and make sure companies are complying with smog reduction rules;

  • And in western Colorado, the state has commented that it is playing “catch up” when it comes to oil and gas development. Right now: 1) They do not have the money to install smog monitors; 2) They do not have the money to conduct modeling to make sure smog will be kept in check; 3) They do not have enough money to analyze the impacts of current and future development on our clean air; and 4) They do not have enough money to fully enforce clean air laws when it comes to oil and gas development.

The state has expressed a sense of urgency when it comes to air pollution from oil and gas development. It's time to put our money where our mouth is, increase air pollution fees, and be sure that our clean air is fully safeguarded here in the Rocky Mountains. The Environmental Integrity Project report is online.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Toxic Ponds

Toxic ponds are popping up across western Colorado, the latest byproduct of the booming oil and gas drilling. The ponds, which are filled with wastewater and who knows what else from the gas fields, are used to evaporate hydrocarbons and other volatile chemicals into the air.

The thing is, virtually every pond in western Colorado is likely violating clean air laws.

Under Colorado law, industry can't just dispose of volatile chemicals like hydrocarbons through evaporation. An oil refinery can't dispose of an oil spill by letting it evaporate in the sun. The reason? These pollutants are toxic and form smog.

Colorado law requires that pollution controls be used if volatile chemicals are disposed of through evaporation. These controls range from covering ponds with scrubbers or using water treatment systems. It's a requirement called "reasonably available control technology" and it helps protect local residents and communities from hazardous air.

Many ponds in western Colorado, some of which are several acres in size, have no pollution controls. They're violating the law, and are putting nearby communities--like DeBeque and Parachute--at risk. On top of this, several more ponds are in the works. It's bad enough having to deal with the existing ponds. The thought of even more ponds spewing pollution is pretty disturbing.

Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, and others have teamed up to urge the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division to finally crackdown on these toxic ponds. In a letter sent today, the groups have called on the state to ensure ponds have pollution controls and to prevent new ponds from being build until existing ponds are complying with the law.

More pictures, including links to high-res images, are on our website.

Yuma Renewables Have a Ways to Go

Yuma, in far northeastern Colorado, wants to be the renewable energy capital of Colorado. This is great news, but Yuma has its work to cut out.

Right now, natural gas drilling in Yuma is booming. According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, 798 drilling permits were issued in Yuma County last year. This was a record for Yuma County, which now ranks the fourth highest in terms of drilling permits issued.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel and it's anything but renewable.

What's happening in Yuma County reflects the paradox facing Colorado right now. While Governor Ritter and others are pushing for increased emphasis on renewable energy sources, there's not a lot of talk about decreased emphasis on fossil fuel energy sources. While the renewables are well and good, at some point we need to chart a path away from unsustainable energy development.

It's easy to plan for the future. Planning for the present is the hard part. We suppose you have to start somewhere, but let's not forget about where we're at right now.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

News from the North

The Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Sierra Club have sued Wyoming power giant Pacificorp for violating the Clean Air Act at its coal burning Jim Bridger Power Plant--1,000 times.

The news is great. The Jim Bridger Power Plant is massive. It releases more nitrogen oxides than all five coal burning power plants in the Denver metro region. Nitrogen oxides degrade lungs, form smog and acid rain, and condense to form microscopic acidic droplets that are linked to heart disease and premature death.

Pacificorp violated limits on opacity, which is the density of air pollution coming out of the smokestack, over 1,000 times. Opacity is essentially a measure of how visible is the pollution from a smokestack. The more visible it is, the more unhealthy it is. And, in most every case, the more visible it is, the more illegal it is. Opacity violations are a sign that Pacificorp needs to upgrade its pollution controls.

In the news, Pacificorp stated that it intends to spend $1 billion to upgrade pollution controls at the Jim Bridger Power Plant. This is great news, it means that Pacificorp will likely settle the lawsuit against them and simply commit to following through with what they've been planning all along.

That's what should happen. We'll see, though.

Friday, March 02, 2007

What's Really Shocking

CEMEX, Inc. claims it is "shocked" that Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action plans to take the company to court in 60 days for numerous violations of the Clean Air Act. As the Boulder Daily Camera stated, this claim "strains credulity."

Since 1979, the Lyons cement plant has failed to install air pollution controls, despite steady increases in pollution. Just like when you renovate your old house, you have to make sure it comes up to code. Unfortunately, despite many renovations at the Lyons cement plant, it has yet to come up to code.

For most of all of us, this is the shocking part. That a multinational cement company making billions every year would be so disorganized and inattentive that 30 years of increased air pollution would simply be overlooked.