Colorado lawmakers mull crackdown on ozone pollution
December 16, 2008
DENVER ” The Colorado Legislature will consider proposals to tighten pollution controls on vehicles and the oil and gas industry to bring the state into compliance with federal clean-air standards.
Federal officials say ozone levels are too high in a nine-county region along the Front Range, including the Denver area and parts of Weld and Larimer counties.
The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission approved tighter rules Friday after two days of hearings.
The Legislature must give final approval. Lawmakers convene next month but it’s not known how quickly they will take up the changes.
The state must submit an ozone-reduction plan by July 1.
“This is an important and substantial step along the path that will lead us to compliance with federal health-based standards for ozone,” said Paul Tourangeau, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division.
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Regulators say pollution from oil and gas production has increased with expanded drilling in northern Colorado, while emissions from other sources have declined.
Recent high ozone levels in western Wyoming are blamed on increased gas drilling there.
Ground-level ozone is a key component of smog and is a health risk for children and people with respiratory problems. It forms when the sun bakes pollutants such as vehicle exhaust and vapors from everything from paint cans to oil and gas wells.
The state tightened standards on the oil and gas industry in late 2006 to meet federal ozone standards. Companies along the Front Range had to cut vapor emissions by 75 percent from tanks that capture liquids from oil and gas production.
Regulators also imposed the first statewide controls on oil and gas tanks that emit 20 tons of pollution or more a year and on new, large internal combustion engines.
The tougher rules didn’t save Colorado from being declared out of compliance after high ozone readings in summer 2007. Late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency officially found the Denver area in violation of federal standards.
The new rules require oil and gas companies on the Front Range to reduce tank emissions systemwide by 81 percent starting May 1, 85 percent by May 2010 and 90 percent by May 2011.
Mandatory vehicle emissions tests will be expanded to include the urban areas of Larimer and Weld Counties. The state has also asked the EPA to require cleaner-burning gasoline be sold in those counties.
“The commission has affirmed that this is the right direction, although there still is a lot work in front of us,” Tourangeau of the health department said.
An environmental group involved in the negotiations on the new rules believes the state isn’t going far enough.
“They shouldn’t sell public health short, but in this case, the commission did,” said Jeremy Nichols of Denver-based WildEarth Guardians.
Nichols said the new rules, passed after a compromise reached by the industry and other interest groups, won’t give the state much of a cushion below the maximum ozone levels allowed. And Nichols said they don’t get the state off to a good start in trying to meet a tougher federal standard, which will implemented in 2013.