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Reps. Bacon & Willford: Ready to Fight Legislatively to Provide Air-Quality Win for Coloradans

Feb 21, 2024

This story was originally published in Colorado Politics here.

Colorado’s legislative session lasts just 120 days. It is a sprint from January to May, racing against the clock to get as much good work done for the people of Colorado as we possibly can. But like every dedicated athlete or weekend warrior, we know wins come from the months of dedicated preparation leading up to a race, and that is exactly what we’ve been up to since last spring and in the first few weeks of the legislative session.

Last year we fell short of a decisive win with House Bill 23-1294, the Protecting Communities from Air Pollution Act. Our goal was to improve Colorado’s broken air quality permitting and enforcement system, which has worsened the state’s ozone crisis and kept any marginal improvements from making air in our communities more breathable. And though the version of the bill that passed took a few important steps in the right direction (requiring rule-making on cumulative impacts, updating complaint processes and eliminating loopholes for polluters), we knew our work needed to continue in 2024.

Last fall, the Legislative Interim Committee on Ozone Air Quality heard testimony from hundreds of Coloradans who bravely shared their stories about the ways poor air quality has negatively impacted their lives. We also made sure to bring state agencies and industry voices to the table — all of these perspectives were important for us to consider as we pondered and debated the best ways for us to address what is truly a crisis for so many Coloradans.

The American Lung Association's 2023 State of the Air report reflects data so many of us know to be true anecdotally: air quality along the Front Range continues to get worse. Every county in the Denver metro area received a failing grade. But up to this point, that evidence, coupled with more bloody noses, increased instances of asthma and lung disease and days of school and work missed because of unbreathable air, have not been enough to make changes that would put Colorado back on the right track.

No more — we’re at the starting line, revved up and raring to go as we and our colleagues prepare to launch three bills we believe everyone who cares about the health of their loved ones, communities and the planet, to boot, can get behind.

Up first: permitting. Colorado’s permitting processes are standing in the way of ozone attainment by failing to adequately consider the air quality impacts of minor sources — including almost all oil and gas sources. The bill we are sponsoring will ensure emissions from proposed projects are aggregated so regulators get an accurate picture of the emissions a project will produce. It will also require greater scrutiny for permits in the nonattainment area, and require oil and gas operators to obtain a permit to pollute from the Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) before the Energy and Carbon Management Commission (ECMC) can issue a permit for drilling or fracking.

Immediate reduction measures are also critically important for the health of our communities, and our colleague, state Sen. Kevin Priola, is sponsoring a bill to address this. His bill targets a number of different emissions sources: cars, trucks, home appliances and oil and gas operations. By implementing seasonal restrictions on oil and gas production, creating standards for non-road engine emissions, finding ways to make electric appliances more accessible to more people, and setting goals for reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) we will have a fighting chance at getting back into compliance with federal air quality standards.

None of those measures will matter, however, if the state doesn’t have the appropriate mechanisms to enforce them. That is where the bill of state Sen. Faith Winter and state Rep. Meg Froelich comes in. Right now, it is often more economical for polluters to pay paltry fines rather than comply; their bill will require repeat violators to pay mandatory fines, in part into a fund that will support environmental mitigation projects. It will also create a public right to enforce the APCD’s regulations if the APCD is not pursuing enforcement. It further takes steps to increase transparency. Our laws should do what they were passed with the intention to do.

Communities along the Front Range and across the state, especially low-income and communities of color, have suffered for far too long. Thanks to the work of the Interim Committee, our constituents and advocates, we’ve begun this legislative session more prepared to fight for a win than ever before.

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