Hickenlooper Says EPA Ozone Delay Will Not Halt Efforts to Improve Air Quality in Colorado
Colorado’s Democratic governor, who has continually warned about the ability of western states to meet strict 2015 federal air regulations, said the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to delay implementation of the Obama administration’s ground-level ozone standard until 2018 would have little impact on his state’s efforts to continue improving air quality.
“The delay of the 2015 standard will not deter our efforts to move toward compliance with the 2008 standard,” Gov. John Hickenlooper told Western Wire via email.
Colorado’s top Democratic official, who called for the new rule’s suspension last year, acknowledged the state still had work to do to catch up on the EPA’s previous 2008 standard of 75 parts-per-billion for ground-level ozone. The EPA had expected to begin designating 2015 non-attainment areas this October.
“Colorado has made significant progress in reducing ozone emissions, both through the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act and the 2014 methane regulations,” Hickenlooper said. “Regardless of what the federal government does, we will reduce ozone pollution not only for cleaner air, but for improved health of the citizens of Colorado.”
In February 2016 the Denver Business Journal highlighted an EPA report that concluded Denver and surrounding areas would not meet the new standard by 2025. Will Allison, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division, told the DBJ that “30 to 50 percent of the ozone that we’re monitoring is background and beyond our control.”
Colorado’s background ozone comes from natural sources such as wildfires and includes ozone that migrates from other states.
State Sen. Cheri Jahn (D-Wheat Ridge) told the DBJ at the time, “This is just setting us up to fail.”
In that light, last year Hickenlooper urged the EPA during a Denver oil and gas forum to back off the new 2015 standard “So, I think it would be a great idea if they suspended the standard,” Hickenlooper said, according to the Washington Examiner.
“I mean, just with the background [ozone emissions], if you’re not going to be able to conform to a standard like this, you are leaving the risk or the possibility that there will be penalties of one sort or another that come from your lack of compliance,” Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper acknowledged last year that progress could be made without the new standard, as has happened in Colorado, but without the need for federal government sanctions for non-attainment.
“Obviously, no different than any business, states want to have as much predictability as possible, and I think if they suspend the standards, it’s not going to slow us down from continuing to try and make our air cleaner,” Hickenlooper said.
“To be punitive when you’re working as hard as you can … to get cleaner air as rapidly as you can, it seems like it’s not the most constructive stance,” he said.
Hickenlooper’s skepticism of a new EPA ground-level ozone standard surfaced in 2015, when he expressed deep concerns for the ability of the state — and specifically regions such as the Front Range — to meet a new standard, proposed by the EPA at between 65-70 ppb, before the agency settled at the 70 ppb level.
“I’m still very concerned,” Hickenlooper told CBS Denver in 2015. “I’ve heard (from) both sides that there isn’t sufficiently clear evidence that this is a significant health hazard.”
Hickenlooper noted the state’s elevation played an additional role, telling the station: “So when you’re at 5,000 feet your ozone challenges are significantly more difficult.”
At an August 2015 Colorado Oil and Gas Association panel, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) expressed similar doubts about the ability of Colorado to meet the new 70 ppb standard, given the topographical, geographical, and elevation issues associated with background ozone.
Bennet’s office did not immediately respond to a Western Wire request for comment on the EPA’s decision to delay implementation.
“I’m deeply concerned about it,” Bennet said. “I think we should understand how they arrived at that conclusion, because the way some statutes are written, they don’t sometimes have the flexibility we think they should have.”
Bennet took issue with the one-size-fits-all application of the new standard and hoped for a “rational outcome,” saying the 2015 proposed standard was “not there yet.”
“And this is the perfect example of applying the law and doing it in a way that doesn’t make sense on the ground. Because of the pollution that’s come in from other Western states, from across the globe, from wildfires in the West, we have significant parts of our state that would be in non-attainment [unintelligible] from the very beginning of the law,” Bennet said.
“That doesn’t make any sense. That’s not going to work,” Bennet said.
Other Western officials praised the EPA’s decision to postpone the non-attainment designations until 2018, giving states additional time to comply.
“It’s great to see the EPA working with Arizonans for a change,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said in a statement. “Nowhere are the flaws of [the] previous administration’s one-size-fits-all approach to regulating ozone more evident than in Arizona, a desert state where naturally occurring ozone makes it impossible to meet the new federal mandate.”
As Western Wire reported this week, several states, including Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, North Dakota and Texas, have filed lawsuits challenging the ozone rule.