GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County has teamed with four other western Colorado counties as the so-called Energy Producing Attainment Counties (EPAC) coalition to try to persuade state regulators against a blanket approach to new air quality standards.
The coalition, which also includes Mesa, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Montezuma counties, maintains that it supports strong regulation of oil and gas operations, including many of the draft rules now before the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC).
But those regulations should ultimately be science-based, according to a draft rebuttal statement to comments submitted by various citizen groups and environmental interests to the AQCC for next month’s public hearings on the proposed new rules.
Some of the “best science” has been developed through Garfield County’s own air-monitoring program and other efforts in the region, which tend to show that Garfield and other natural-gas-producing counties on the Western Slope are consistently within federal pollution limits, according to the draft statement.
Garfield County commissioners held a work session on Wednesday that lasted more than three-and-a-half hours and included comments from a variety of conservation and citizen groups, as well as industry representatives.
The commissioners are expected to approve the statement following a joint meeting today with the Mesa County commissioners in Parachute before forwarding the coalition’s comments to the AQCC.
Pre-hearing comments from groups that include the local community organizations coalition, of which western Garfield County’s Grand Valley Citizens Alliance is a party, “advocate for a statewide, one-size-fits-all set of rules as logical and appropriate,” according to the EPAC coalition’s draft statement.
“They hold to this position even as they fail to fairly and reasonably consider readily available air quality monitoring data and studies that may indicate a flexible, science-based set of rules could equally … achieve state emission control goals while encouraging investments where they are most needed,” the joint statement reads.
Battlement Mesa resident Bob Arrington, speaking for the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, pointed to the county’s own air-monitoring data in recent years that do show spikes in ozone pollutants well above federal standards, even if the average readings are within attainment levels.
He also referred to data collected on forest lands in eastern Garfield and Pitkin counties through 2010 and 2011 that detected higher levels at higher elevations.
“When it comes to air flow, the forces of nature prevail,” he said.
“What is made in Utah, or even China for that matter, affects the Western Slope of Colorado. Likewise, what the Western Slope makes affects the air in neighboring counties to the east and on the Front Range,” he said in support of uniform statewide air quality regulations.
David Ludlam, executive director for the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, blasted what he called “inflammatory rhetoric” from some environmental groups that have referred to energy companies as “irresponsible polluters” and “people who refuse to kick their pollution habits.”
“That stands in contrast to the facts,” Ludlam said, referring to industry efforts to improve technology and reign in leaks from natural gas wells.
West Slope COGA does have legitimate concerns about the potential cost to natural gas producers to increase leak inspections at remote well sites in western Colorado, and the impact those costs will have on local taxing entities that rely on industry tax dollars, he said.
“There will be very measurable impacts to those agencies that provide the backbone of human services in our counties,” Ludlam said.
“Nobody wants weaker rules, including our industry,” he said. “A reasonable person can look at differences in the operating environment on the [Western Slope], and ask the commission to look at what might make sense here.”