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Guardians files suit to defend clean air, health, and justice in Denver Metro Area
“Coloradans can’t afford for state air regulators to keep turning their backs on clean air, public health, and environmental justice,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The Environmental Protection Agency can’t give Colorado a free pass to keep dragging its feet, it’s time to clean up smog and put people over polluters.”
Today’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Denver, targets the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to find that Colorado failed to submit a legally required plan to clean up ground-level ozone pollution, the key ingredient of smog, in the Denver Metro and Front Range region.
Colorado was required to submit a clean up plan in August 2020. The state failed to meet this deadline.
By law, the Environmental Protection Agency was required to make its finding that Colorado failed to submit in February 2021. The Agency never made this finding.
Under the Clean Air Act, when the Environmental Protection Agency finds that a state failed to submit an air pollution clean up plan in time, it triggers a two-year clock during which the Agency has to either fully approve of a state’s clean up plan or develop its own federal plan. This backstop ensures that, one way or another, an effective air pollution clean up plan is adopted.
“With Colorado continuing to fail to clean up smog and protect people from polluters, it’s critical to ensure we have a safety net in place to ensure the Environmental Protection Agency steps in,” said Nichols. ”
Ozone pollution in the Denver Metro and Front Range region has soared to dangerous highs in recent years, violating federal health standards and threatening people and communities from Douglas County north to Larimer and Weld Counties.
Ozone is a poisonous gas and even at low levels, can trigger asthma attacks, cause respiratory irritation, worsen lung disease, and even cause premature death. It forms when air pollution from smokestacks, tailpipes, and oil and gas extraction reacts with sunlight and is primarily a summertime problem.
Colorado has failed to clean up ozone pollution for years. In 2019, the Denver Metro and Front Range region was declared a “serious” ozone dirty air area. In response, Governor Jared Polis commented, “We have an air quality crisis across the Denver metro area with significant health impacts…We have to do everything in our power right here at home to make our air cleaner and our people healthier as soon as we possibly can.”
In spite of the Governor’s call for action, Colorado remains off track to comply with federal health standards. Even though new rules were adopted in late 2020 to further reduce ozone forming emissions in the Denver Metro and Front Range region, the state is not on track to meet a legally required July 2021 deadline to clean up the region’s smog.
A ruling in WildEarth Guardians’ lawsuit is likely by the end of 2021.