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Court rejects Polis Administration’s illegal air pollution permit delays
In an order issued on April 21, 2023, Adams County judge Teri Vasquez ruled the Polis Administration’s Air Division failed to ensure the two large polluters operated in compliance with clean air laws and regulations and set deadlines for final permitting action.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians by student attorneys with the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Environmental Law Clinic. It targeted two facilities in Adams County: the Dupont Terminal, a bulk fuel terminal located at 8160 Krameria St. and the Totem NG Transmission and Storage Facility, a large gas storage and transmission plant located at 54200 E. 104th Ave.
The facilities are both considered major sources of air pollution and collectively release thousands of tons of toxic air emissions, including nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter. Both facilities contribute to high ozone levels in the Denver Metro area.
Ozone, a poisonous gas, is the key ingredient of smog and poses myriad health risks. It can trigger asthma attacks, worsen lung disease, and damage respiratory tissue. Seniors, children, and active adults are most at risk. The Denver Metro area has violated federal limits on ozone since 2007.
“The Polis Administration needs to decide if it serves Big Oil or the people of Colorado,” said Robert Ukeiley, an environmental health lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If the state wants to protect kids from asthma-causing smog, it needs to spend more time working to limit the dangerous pollution coming out of smokestacks and less time in court defending polluters who refuse to clean up their act.”
The Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians filed suit against the Polis Administration after months of delaying action on air pollution permits for the Adams County facilities.
By law, the facilities are required to operate in compliance with updated air pollution permits. While both facilities applied for permits in early 2021, the Air Pollution Control Division has yet to take final action on the applications. Under the Clean Air Act, Division was required to grant or deny the permit applications within 18 months of receipt. It now been over two years since the facilities submitted their applications.
“It’s disappointing and discouraging that despite all the talk of protecting clean air, Governor Polis’ agencies are still flouting the law and delaying accountability,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “For the health of Coloradans and Colorado communities, the Polis administration needs to stop giving the oil and gas industry a free pass to pollute.”
The Center and Guardians’ lawsuit aimed to secure deadlines for the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division to take action. If a source of air pollution cannot operate in compliance with state and federal clean air laws, then its permit must be denied.The suit comes as the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division is increasingly under fire for shirking its duty to protect clean air and hold the oil and gas industry accountable. Last month, a state court in Weld County ruled the Division illegally delayed action on air pollution permits for several oil and gas extraction facilities, ordering the state to take action.