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Coloradans Call for Pause on Oil and Gas Extraction During COVID-19 Crisis
“For our health and welfare, we’re pleading with Governor Polis to pause fossil fuel production and give people a chance to focus on protecting themselves, their families, and their communities,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “In light of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s more critical than ever to defend our clean air and put people before polluters.”
Experts across the world have warned that air pollution makes people more vulnerable to COVID-19, stating that those at the highest risk include populations with pre-existing health conditions such as respiratory disease. Colorado’s poor air quality is a major driver for respiratory illness across the state, resulting in more than 32,000 child asthma attacks annually.
“There is no doubt that pollutants from oil and gas development contribute to weakened respiratory function and asthma, making COVID-19 more deadly to the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Recent studies have confirmed that those living in areas with higher pollution levels are more likely to die from the virus. In addition to severity of symptoms, a study conducted at Bologna University, Italy found a correlation between the number of days of pollution and hospital admissions from COVID-19 raising the possibility that air pollution may also act as a vector to increase the spread of infection,” said Cory D. Carroll, M.D., Chairman, Physicians for Social Responsibility Colorado. “With the number of active wells in Colorado there is no doubt that a moratorium on activity will result in improved health outcomes for the citizens of Colorado.”
Last week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released a statement confirming the need for improved air quality, discouraging open burning activities during the COVID-19 response. “The COVID-19 virus poses a particular threat to individuals with a history of heart or respiratory illness. Smoke from open burns could put a strain on already vulnerable populations,” stated the CDPHE.
Yet, open burns are far from the largest source of air pollution in Colorado. Oil and gas activities are responsible for as much as 40% of the pollution that resulted in the EPA reclassifying Colorado air quality as in “serious” violation of air quality laws. The American Lung Association lists “reducing emissions from existing and new oil and gas operations” as one of the key actions Colorado can take to improve air quality across the state.
“We are living in the midst of a global pandemic resulting in severe respiratory illness and even death at alarmingly high rates, and research shows that air pollution from fossil fuel activities such as fracking, oil refining, and coal-burning greatly increases our risk of severe outcomes,” said 350 Colorado Executive Director Micah Parkin. “Many businesses that increase public risk are being asked to shut down during this pandemic, and fossil fuel companies should be no exception.”
The petition calls on Governor Jared Polis, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and State Land Board to take immediate action to protect those most vulnerable to risks of COVID-19 by halting all fossil fuel activities and the resulting hazardous pollution during the pandemic. The groups point out that across Colorado, poor air quality disproportionately impacts the elderly, low-income communities and people of color; those who are already most impacted by the pandemic and economic downturn.
“This crisis is illuminating existing environmental justice issues already present in Colorado,” said Omar Montgomery, Co-Chair of the NAACP State Conference COVID-19 Civil Rights Sub-Committee. “Sadly, all too often, communities of color and pollution go hand in hand. We call on Governor Polis to stand up for those most impacted among us by championing the right to clean air for all during this respiratory pandemic.”
Groups will continue gathering signatures on the petition and are requesting a virtual meeting with Polis and his administration to discuss measures to improve air quality during the pandemic.
The petition can be found here.