Emails Reveal Polis Administration Taking Direction From Outside Groups
A series of emails obtained by Western Wire through an open records request between two of Colorado’s top health officials outlined a series of meetings with state agency staff to discuss a raft of potential policy issues, beginning with suggestions forwarded by a climate action organization formerly headed by one of the officials.
On Monday, January 28, Jill Ryan, the new Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment under the Polis administration emailed Garry Kaufman, Division Director of the Air Pollution Control Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about an upcoming meeting, and shared a list of to-dos suggested by Ryan’s friends at Colorado Communities for Climate Action, an organization Ryan headed as president before resigning to take up the position at CDPHE under Gov. Jared Polis.
“Hi Garry, I am really looking forward to working with you. You know that GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and ozone are going to be priorities of this administration. I want to assure you that you have a partner in me in going after the resources you will need to tackle these big issues. I know we are meeting soon and I look forward to it. The following is from my friends at CC4CA. Can you assess these and weave them into our upcoming discussions about what is do-able, if you had the resources? I look forward to hearing your ideas too. Martha told me you had some efficient ideas for cutting GHG’s. Thank you, Jill,” wrote Ryan.
Kaufman replied the next day.
“Thanks Jill. I appreciate the comments and your support. A number of these issues are on the agenda for our meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Some of these will be easier to tackle than others, but they all merit our attention. I can give you a lot more specifics when we meet. Garry,” responded Kaufman.
But Ryan had to leave the January 30th meeting, and called for following up in the near future, as well as to “strategize” about the “upcoming health assessment results.”
“I am so sorry I had to leave today. My calendar reflected a 4pm adjournment time. Do you think we should all meet again within the next couple of weeks and continue our discussion? … Maybe we can strategize too about messaging around the upcoming health assessment results,” Ryan wrote.
The health risk assessment Ryan refers to is the expected CDPHE report that was originally due for summer 2018, but has been repeatedly delayed, according to information from CDPHE and reported by Western Wire. When the report will be finalized and published in a peer-reviewed publication is currently not known, according to CDPHE.
Kaufman responded to Ryan’s email on Thursday, January 31st.
“No problem whatsoever on the schedule. I think it would be good to get another meeting set to talk through the remaining issues on the list from yesterday as well as go though the other issues identified by CC4CA. Also I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on climate change and discussing how the Air Division can be most productive in helping advance a new Colorado climate strategy,” Kaufman asked, seeing if there was a good time to meet that would work for both of them.
In a follow up to Kaufman’s email Ryan’s next response, dated February 2nd, indicates that along with the discussion of tackling the “goals of GHG emissions and ozone,” the conversation could return to the CC4CA policy discussions.
“After next week, we can catch up on CC4CA and any issues I missed last week. I can’t imagine the governor’s office would want us to have all the answers by the retreat, but this meeting can help get us started,” she added.
Kaufman responds affirmatively. “That sounds good Jill. I’ll probably bring Dena Wojtach to next week’s meeting as well. Dena is currently managing our planning program, which develops regulations for consideration by the AQCC. She’ll have a lot of ideas about potential ozone strategies. Let me know if there is any information you’d need for either our meeting or the cabinet retreat,” he wrote.
In Ryan’s original January 28 email to Kaufman, an attached forwarded document from CC4CA included a grab-bag of actions that CDPHE could undertake “that would make a meaningful difference”
“Hi Jill – I’ve asked around among some of the air quality folks I know for ideas about very specific things CDPHE could do now that would make a meaningful difference. I can’t speak to the relative merits of these suggestions, and they are in no particular order. I’m using the language provided to me, and since I don’t know much about most of them I’m not in a position to endorse their characterizations or recommendations, but I can say that the folks I talked with are smart and competent, so I’m guessing that all of these suggestions are worth consideration at least. Also, some of these are at least partially redundant. I tried to put those together,” the forwarded email read.
The first item on the list came from an effort by WildEarth Guardians in late 2018 to encourage CDPHE to not move forward with an extension requested by former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration and have the Environmental Protection Agency not include out-of-state and foreign emissions in its consideration for the Front Range’s non-attainment status on ground-level ozone.
“Withdraw CDPHEs’ request for an extension of the attainment date for the Denver Metro-North Front Range ozone nonattainment area. CDPHE submitted this request to avoid more rigorous air quality regulation under the Clean Air Act. CDPHE should withdraw it and publicly commit to cleaning up the region’s ozone pollution problem within three years. More background is here: https://wildearthguardians.org/press-releases/guardians-calls-on-colorado-governor-to-back-off-delay-of-denver-smog-cleanup,” the email’s author wrote.
That link referred to a WildEarth Guardians press release from November 28, 2018, where the anti-oil and gas group asked the lame duck Hickenlooper administration and CDPHE to withdraw its 2018 extension request.
“In a letter to the Governor and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Interim Director, Karin McGowan, WildEarth Guardians called on the officials to withdraw a June 2018 request to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to allow the state a one-year extension to reduce dangerous levels of ground-level ozone in the Denver Metro Area,” WildEarth Guardian’s Jeremy Nichols wrote.
“Colorado requested the EPA grant a one-year extension to clean up the Denver Metro Area’s smog on the basis of it’s (sic) claim that the region suffered no exceedances of health limits in 2017 and was on track to comply with ozone standards,” Nichols added. “Nevertheless, on November 14, the EPA proposed to approve Colorado’s request. If approved, the one-year extension would allow Colorado to delay adopting stronger clean air safeguards for a year or longer.
In late March, newly-elected Gov. Jared Polis reversed course on the Hickenlooper extension request with EPA, arguing that action was required “sooner not later.”
“This extension would have given Colorado additional time to come into compliance with the health-based standard. Colorado is choosing to move forward without delay to protect communities and their public health,” Polis wrote in his letter to the agency.
“There’s too much smog in our air, and instead of hiding behind bureaucracy and paperwork that delay action, we are moving forward to make our air cleaner now,” he added. The week before, Polis said Colorado could not “use pollution from China as an excuse not to improve our air quality here.”
In an emailed response to Western Wire seeking comment on the Polis administration’s decision to withdraw the exemption, Kaufman defended the actions of CDPHE, including acknowledging the impact from out-of-state emissions, but saying the agency could do more here on its own without an exemption.
“Colorado is committed to moving aggressively to protect its citizens by reducing ground level ambient ozone levels. While a significant portion of the high ozone levels impacting Colorado residents result from global background and emissions from outside the state, that fact should not dissuade us from taking reasonable and cost-effective steps to reduce emissions from sources within Colorado,” Kaufman told Western Wire. “In connection with these efforts we will be looking at all significant sources of ozone precursor emissions in the state including oil and gas production and transportation,” he added.
The CC4CA email went further, arguing that the state’s top health agency should let the federal Clean Air Act “run its course” and allow the area to get “bumped up to a serious [nonattainment] area” so that emitters would be forced to seek a major source permit—and to hasten the action by certifying the CDPHE data earlier than the May 1st deadline.
“Let the Clean Air Act run its course for the Denver-Metro/North Front Range 2008 ozone national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) nonattainment area. Currently, the area is rated as a moderate nonattainment area,” the email continued.
“However, the 2018 ambient monitoring data clearly shows that the area failed to attain the 2008 ozone NAAQS by its moderate attainment date. Therefore, we should get bumped up to a serious area. Getting bumped up to a serious area will decrease the major source threshold so sources that are greater than 50 tons per year will have to get a major source permit including offsets. Offsets means that if you are going to emit 60 tons, you have to get someone else to reduce their emissions by more than 60 tons. That makes sense because if the air is already unsafe to breath, the last thing one should be doing is adding more pollution to the area,” the CC4CA note added.
The note’s author went on to specify critical steps the agency should undertake, including getting rid of a provision allowed under the Clean Air Act and EPA as a way of acknowledging foreign emissions in Colorado’s nonattainment presentation that would help the state meet the new requirements.
“In order to have a bump up, CDPHE should: a) Certify the 2018 monitoring data. Technically, the certification isn’t due until May 1 but there is no sense in waiting. Other states certify their data early all the time. b) Withdraw Colorado’s request to US EPA for a 1 year extension of the attainment date. Colorado submitted the request before we had the 2018 data so there was hope that we would come into attainment. However, that didn’t work out. With the 2018 ozone monitoring data in hand, we know that the 1 year extension will only delay by one year life saving measures to reduce ozone pollution. There is no sense in making the people of Colorado suffer an extra year of ozone pollution,” the note reads.
“c) Stop work on the 179B excuse provision. 179B was meant to help out places like Nogales, AZ, which gets a tremendous amount of pollution from Mexico. 179B says that if pollution from another country is the “but for” cause of a place in the U.S.’s violation of the NAAQS, they are excused from trying to fix the problem. Certain forces have been trying to urge Colorado to blame China and other countries for our ozone problem. However, 179B does not provide a mechanism to get actual pollution reductions from those foreign countries,” it continues.,
“We can, and must solve our own ozone problem (although we can get help from other states as discussed below),” the author concludes.
The comprehensive list of policy goals encompassed a wide range of air quality aims across multiple industries.
These other suggested policy decisions encouraged in the note included working on the next iteration of the Regional Haze state implementation plan or SIP, increasing permitting fees to allow the Air Pollution Control Division to catch up on its permitting backlog and help “impose a moratorium on the granting of new air pollution construction permits for oil and gas facilities,” increase enforcement and enforcement actions via court filings, instruct the coal industry to report methane emissions and resulting volatile organic compounds and require new permitting, clean up a Colorado Springs coal ash site, fix acid deposition in Rocky Mountain National Park, and require CDPHE to waive CORA fees for qualified entities.