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Guardians files suit for clean air in Colorado and Utah

April 14, 2022
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org, Kate Merlin, WildEarth Guardians, (720) 965-0854, kmerlin@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#COCleanAir, #ClimateJustice, #KeepItInTheGround
Denver—WildEarth Guardians today filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over their failure to crack down on dangerous smog pollution in Colorado and Utah.

“The Environmental Protection Agency is dragging its feet when it comes to protecting people from harmful air pollution,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.  “This lawsuit aims to ensure the agency follows through with its legal obligation to safeguard clean air and communities in Colorado and Utah.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Colorado, challenges the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to declare that the Denver Metro area of Colorado and the Uinta Basin and Salt Lake City areas of Utah failed to meet ambient air quality standards for ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog. The finding would trigger more stringent air quality regulation and require polluters to obtain stricter permits.

Formed when air pollution from smokestacks, tailpipes, and oil and gas extraction react with sunlight, ozone is a poisonous gas that can trigger asthma attacks, worsen lung disease, inflame the respiratory system, and even lead to premature death. To protect public health, the Environmental Protection Agency has established a national ambient air quality standard limiting ground-level ozone concentrations to no more than 0.070 parts per million.

In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the Denver Metro-North Front Range region of Colorado, the Uinta Basin of northeast Utah, and the Salt Lake City-Northern Wasatch Front region of Utah were violating ambient air quality standards for ozone. These regions’ ozone pollution has been fueled by unchecked oil and gas drilling and fracking, refineries and power plants, and increasing car, rail, and heavy machinery traffic.

The agency designated the regions as “nonattainment areas” and set a deadline of August 2021 for Colorado and Utah to bring the areas into compliance with air quality standards.

After both states failed to meet the August 2021 clean up deadline, the Environmental Protection Agency was legally required to issue a formal finding by February 2022 that the Denver Metro area of Colorado and the Uinta Basin and Salt Lake City areas of Utah failed to attain the ozone standards. This finding would reclassify the regions from “marginal” nonattainment areas to “moderate,” which would require Colorado and Utah to adopt more stringent air quality regulations and impose more stringent permitting requirements on polluters.

While yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to find that Colorado and Utah failed to meet the ozone standards, a final finding has not been made. Today’s lawsuit is meant to secure a commitment from the Environmental Protection Agency to take final action by a certain date.

“We’re pleased to see the Environmental Protection Agency finally taking the first steps to protect clean air, but the reality is they’re breaking the law,” said Kate Merlin, Climate and Energy Program Attorney for WildEarth Guardians.  “Millions of people in Colorado and Utah are depending on the agency to act, so unless and until we see final action, we’ll continue to keep the pressure on in federal court.”

denver skyline us department of energy wildearth guardians

Smog shrouds the summer skies in Denver.



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