Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Toxic Ponds Back in the News

The state has embarked upon a study to understand what exactly is being spewed in the air from oil and gas wastewater evaporation ponds in western Colorado. One of those ponds is the Black Mountain disposal facility in DeBeque, which was cited for violating clean air laws earlier this year.

Oil and gas wastewater ponds like Black Mountain are falling under intense scrutiny in Colorado because of their air pollution. The main purpose of these ponds is to accept volatile waste liquids from oil and gas production facilities and let them evaporate into the air. The trouble is, this stuff is toxic when it's a liquid and toxic when it evaporates. When these ponds are gigantic, covering several acres or more, that creates a huge public health threat.

That, and under Colorado air quality laws, it's illegal to let this stuff evaporate without using any pollution controls. In fact, Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action and several other groups called on the state of Colorado earlier this year to regin in these toxic ponds.

We know that some nasty stuff is being released at these ponds, but the state's study should give us an idea exactly what is being released, how much, and whether that's too much. It looks like we're on track to finally clean these things up.

Meet Theo Colborn

Theo Colborn, one of Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action's Advisors, a leading scientific voice for clean air in western Colorado, and the President of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, was featured in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent last Saturday. Check out the article here >>

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Dispatch from the Four Corners

This was just forwarded to us by a friend in Farmington, New Mexico. According to the Farmington Daily Times:
The New Mexico Department of Health released a study Thursday that shows San Juan County's ground ozone levels are comparable to urban areas and are high for the Southwest.

Because of the rise in ground-level ozone, asthma-related hospital visits were reported to increase in northwestern New Mexico.

The news is not a shock to us. While northwestern New Mexico has not violated current federal health standards for ozone, the EPA has all but said that our current health standards fail to protect public health.

Earlier this year, the agency announced it wanted to strengthen health standards. Ozone is now limited to no more than 80 parts per billion over an eight hour period, but the EPA wants to lower the standard to between 70 and 75 parts per billion. What's more, the EPA's clean air science advisers have urged the agency to adopt a standard as low as 60 parts per billion. By all scientific measures, anytime ground-level ozone rises to 60 parts per billion or more, there's a serious health risk that follows.

And according to the Farmington Daily Times, the daily maximum eight hour ozone concentration in Farmington is 63 parts per billion, meaning that ozone is consistently at unhealthy levels in the region.

As if this wasn't bad enough, a new coal burning power plant is being proposed in the region. The Desert Rock power plant would spew even more ozone forming pollution into the air of Farmington, basically muddying already muddy waters. Learn more about Desert Rock here.

Farmington needs to be put on the path to clean air. No more coal burning, no Desert Rock.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Health Care Planning Heads Up

The Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform has developed its fifth and final plan to help fix our health care system here in Colorado.

If you haven't been paying attention to what the Blue Ribbon Commission is up to, you should. Their recommendations to the legislature will have an impact on every Coloradoan. For the uninsured or underinsured, it will hopefully bring a new era of more more affordable, accessible, and high quality health care.

This coming October, the Blue Ribbon Commission will be holding public hearings to seek input on their five plans. It will be worthwhile for every Coloradoan to attend.

In the meantime, while the Blue Ribbon Commission tackles the issue of health care here in Colorado, let's not forget about the role public health policy plays in all this. Clean air in particular can lead to enormous benefits and likely reduce the cost of health care for everyone in the state.

Consider this: the EPA estimates that new health standards for ground-level ozone will benefit the United States to a tune of $33 billion. These benefits come from preventing asthma attacks, missed work and school days, bronchitis, heart attacks, and even premature death.

And this is just the benefits from reducing ground-level ozone. Imagine if we could further reduce particulate pollution, carbon monoxide, and cancer-causing air pollution?

It's been said that public health should be the foundation of any health care policy. We couldn't agree more. Affordable and accessible health care are all within reach, but without good public health policy, it will be all for not.

As the Blue Ribbon Commission moves forward, let's be sure we don't lose sight of the need for clean air and healthy communities.

Bad, BLM, Bad

The Bureau of Land Management got a taste of fresh air yesterday from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

While the BLM is planning to open the oil and gas drilling floodgates in the Vermillion Basin of northwestern Colorado, the EPA has demanded an air quality study be completed first. According to the Denver Post, the demand now sets back plans to drill the Vermillion Basin for at least a year.

The BLM wasn't very surprised at the request. Neither are we. The BLM is green-lighting proposals for thousands of new oil and gas wells in Colorado. At the same time, oil and gas drilling is increasingly linked to serious air pollution problems and public health concerns across the state.

One would think the BLM would have half a mind to consider air quality impacts before authorizing thousands of oil and gas wells. Our clean air is probably the most important, yet most endangered value here in Colorado.

Thankfully, the EPA has weighed in this time around. For the future though, the BLM needs to take warning.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ozone Monitors Making Their Way to Western Colorado

It's another sign of the changing west.

Ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of urban smog, is rising in rural western Colorado. Now the state is moving to install ozone monitors in western Colorado, including several in Montezuma County.

What's the reason for this rise in ozone? The culprits seem to be booming oil and gas drilling, coal burning power plants in the four corners region, and more industrial development than ever before in the region.

Western Colorado is, in many ways, getting its first dose of a serious air pollution crisis because of ozone. Getting monitors on the ground is a good first start, but there's enough information to know there's a serious problem. In fact, an ozone monitor in Mesa Verde National Park, located in Montezuma County, has been operating for years and shows an upward trend in ozone pollution.

Couple all this to the fact that health experts report federal standards for ozone in our air need to be strengthened, and you start to see that we've got a slow motion train wreck unfolding in front of us. We may not be violating current health standards, but all the signs say that western Colorado is choking on unhealthy air.

While monitors are making their way to western Colorado, let's start getting on the ball now to figure out ways to keep air pollution in check. We know our health is at risk now, there's no reason to delay.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Southwest Colorado Will Violate Ozone Standards

An article in today's Durango Herald drives home what many of us have known for several months now. Under the EPA's proposal to strengthen federal health standards for ozone in our air, southwestern Colorado will violate.

While ozone up high protects us from ultraviolet radiation, down low, it corrodes our lungs, putting children, seniors, those with asthma and other respiratory conditions, and even active adults at risk.

Current health standards limit ozone to no more than 80 parts per billion over an eight hour period, but health scientists say that ozone should be limited to no more than 60 parts per billion. The EPA has proposed a new standard of between 70 and 75 parts per billion, not quite strong enough to keep us all healthy.

While regulators and industry are scrambling to determine what the EPA's new standard will mean for southwestern Colorado, we need to remember what this means for southwestern Colorado now.

Under the EPA's proposed standard, southwestern Colorado would violate health standards. And, if the standard was as low as 60 parts per billion, southwestern Colorado would violate the health standards even worse.

Forget the EPA's regulations, the real news here is that everyone in southwestern Colorado is breathing unhealthy levels of ozone. A new standard may not be in place yet, but the science is in and that needs to count for something.

The speed limit may not have changed yet, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't slow down for safety.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

It's Worth Fighting For

"If it's worth fighting for, we'll do it."

These are the words of Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, defending his request that the Bureau of Land Management protect the Vermillion Basin proposed wilderness in northwestern Colorado from oil and gas drilling. The request has spurred ire from a handful of northwest Colorado good ol' boys who would just as soon deed Moffat County to the highest bidder than keep it safe for future generations. Understandably, the Governor is sticking to his guns on this one.

And that's what strikes us. While most politicians would retreat and try to mend relations with the local good ol' boys, Governor Ritter is remaining steadfast in his commitment to safeguarding Vermillion Basin, even in the face of some pretty harsh criticism. The Governor seems focused on the values here, not on political expediency. If this isn't leadership, we don't know what is.

True, by remaining steadfast, Governor Ritter may very well be scoring political points with some Coloradoans. But we think he's truly genuine here. It's not often that our elected leaders remain strident in the face of criticism. And while some might see the Governor's comments as rhetoric, his words ring with more honesty than any rhetoric we've heard.

The Vermillion Basin is a wilderness gem in northwestern Colorado, it's full of wildlife and diversity, it is a gem that's managed to stay untouched in the face of booming oil and gas drilling. It is worth fighting for, plain and simple.

Governor Ritter is not just being a leader for Colorado, he's being a leader for the west. Because what he is doing is not partisan and it's not political; it's about values. Here in the west, we value our land, we value our clean air, and we value our clean water. What's more, we value standing up for what we value.

Sticking to your values takes guts. Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action knows this first hand. Governor Ritter is fighting for Vermillion Basin and in the process, showing that when it comes to western values, he's not one to back down.

Vermillion Basin is a sign of the changing winds here in Colorado and the west. Those winds are being fueled by you and by us, people who are not just demanding something better, but are willing to fight for it. A gale is upon us.