CoPIRG highlights solutions after Denver, North Front Range once again fails to meet EPA’s air quality deadline

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Ozone pollution endangers the health of millions of Coloradans


DENVER – The Denver Metro and North Front Range areas missed another key deadline on Tuesday to meet ozone pollution air quality standards set by the federal government.   

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave the Denver Metro and the North Front Range (DMNFR) a deadline until July 20, 2021 to meet a 2008 standard. These areas were already considered in “Serious” nonattainment for exceeding the pollution standards. Ozone pollution data from the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division indicate that the DMNFR exceeded ozone levels at multiple monitors between 2018 and 2020.   

“The smoke alarm has been going off for years but we’re failing to put out the fire,” said Danny Katz, executive director of CoPIRG. “Too often, people from Denver up to Fort Collins are breathing unhealthy air. More needs to be done to ensure every Coloradan can live a healthy, outdoor life, breathing the clean air they deserve.”

Ground level ozone pollution is a harmful air pollutant that is formed when pollution emitted by vehicles, power plants, industrial facilities and forest fires chemically reacts in sunlight. It can cause lung damage and is especially dangerous for people with asthma, children, older adults and people who are active outdoors. 

Colorado’s state government and local communities have a number of tools to reduce unhealthy ozone levels, including reducing pollution from the oil and gas sector and the transportation system. Another key strategy is combating climate change, which has led to longer and more extreme fire seasons. Over the summer and early fall, western wildfires often blanket Colorado communities in smoke and exacerbate ozone pollution. 

To help Colorado address unhealthy ozone pollution, CoPIRG highlighted a number of actions planned in the next six months that could reduce ozone pollution including:

  • Employer-based Trip Reduction Program – The Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) is currently considering the Employer-based Trip Reduction Program (ETRP). The rule would help reduce pollution from vehicles by expanding options for employees to commute without driving alone every day. Options could include more teleworking, better access to transit with bus passes, carpool programs and amenities that help people walk and bike more. The rule will be decided at the AQCC’s August 18-20 rulemaking hearing
  • CDOT Greenhouse Gas Pollution Standard – This fall, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) will consider rules around reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, a leading contributor to climate change and the forest fires that contribute to ozone. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in transportation would also result in less vehicle-emitted ozone pollutants. A decision is expected by the CDOT Transportation Commission later this fall.
  • Implementation of Xcel’s Transportation Electrification Plan (TEP) – Electric vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions and are an important way to reduce ozone pollution. Over the next three years, Xcel Energy will invest over $110 million in vehicle electrification strategies that could speed up the transition to cleaner vehicles. Much of Xcel Energy’s territory overlaps with parts of the state that failed to meet the ozone standard. Xcel is making decisions now on how they will invest in electrification. 
  • Oil and Gas Greenhouse Gas Rulemaking Effort – The Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) will likely kick off a rulemaking in September to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector. The commission is considering several strategies including improving equipment and processes, reducing the greenhouse gas intensity and overall emission reduction programs. More information here
  • Adoption of Cleaner Truck Rules – Colorado’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap envisions a rulemaking at the AQCC in 2022 to adopt new rules to clean up trucks, including cutting tailpipe pollution and transitioning to electric-powered heavy-duty vehicles. There are several options other states are pursuing. An initial state-sponsored study should be completed this summer with possible AQCC action in 2022 or earlier. 
  • Municipal Government Actions – Cities and counties can play a big role in reducing ozone pollution. Every year, municipalities make lots of decisions around how to spend millions of transportation dollars and how to guide development. Focusing transportation spending and development in ways that support walking, biking and transit are often overlooked solutions to our ozone pollution problems.