John Stroud

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January 31, 2014
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Counties want cost analysis of air quality rules

A key argument contained in Garfield County’s joint response to proposed statewide air quality rules is that the costs to the oil and gas industry and local governments versus the stated benefits of tighter regulations have not been properly evaluated.

Currently, that information is lacking in the proposal that is to be considered at a multi-day public hearing before the state Air Quality Control Commission later this month, according to the five-county Energy Producing Attainment Counties (EPAC) coalition.

Until that information is available, adoption of the proposed rules should be postponed, according to a formal rebuttal statement signed by Garfield County commissioners on Jan. 30 and forwarded to the AQCC.

In addition to the neighboring Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties, the EPAC coalition includes Montezuma County in the far southwestern corner of the state.

“This lack of information significantly impacts our ability to effectively evaluate and provide definitive perspectives regarding the Colorado Pollution Control Division’s proposed rule changes as currently drafted,” according to the EPAC statement.

“We reserve the right to provide additional analysis, comment and alternative proposals as warranted once these crucial documents become available for review,” it says.

The response sent as part of the formal rule-making process also requests that the AQCC develop an effective enforcement strategy before approving the new regulations.

“Garfield County supports strong air regulations for western Colorado, and the Board of County Commissioners has committed ongoing resources to air quality,” according to a news release issued by the county on Friday.

“Garfield County is leading the nation in its commitment to fund a study to gather air emissions data from oil and gas drilling,” the release states.

In addition to providing $1 million in funding toward a Colorado State University study of air quality around natural gas drilling sites, Garfield County has one of the few county-run baseline air quality monitoring programs in Colorado.

Data from that monitoring program “shows the county has some of the cleanest air in the state of Colorado and that the air quality is improving each year,” according to the news release.

The EPAC coalition also argues in its joint statement that because western Colorado does not currently have an ozone pollution problem, it should not come under the same air quality regulations as Front Range counties that do have a pollution problem.

For that reason, the rules should be more flexible to meet local needs and concerns, rather than having a “one-size-fits-all” approach, the coalition argues

However, the Local Community Organizations coalition, which includes the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (GVCA), maintains in its rebuttal statement sent to the AQCC this week that Garfield and the other counties are off base in that argument.

“We take issue with their characterization of ozone as merely a ‘Front Range issue,’” the citizens coalition states. “[These counties] are already experiencing higher levels of ozone and one has recently fallen out of attainment with federal ozone standards.”

Air quality readings near Rangely in Rio Blanco County have recently exceeded federal ozone standards, which has been attributed to natural gas activity to the west in northeastern Utah.

The citizen groups coalition also says the costs of implementing the new rules should not trump public health.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovksy, at a Wednesday meeting to consider the statement on the air quality rules, supported West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association director David Ludlam’s assessment that the regulations will be more costly to western Colorado producers if blanket rules are applied to remote well sites that are difficult to get to for frequent inspections.

“I think monthly inspections, or even six-month inspections don’t work in Garfield County,”Jankovksy said. “If you put more cost onto our operators, you will start losing operators and losing jobs.”

GVCA President Leslie Robinson said Garfield County shouldn’t put industry concerns ahead of the health, safety and welfare of county residents.

“The commissioners should be protecting human health during these air quality hearings, not be involved with a cost analysis and the impacts to the oil and gas industry,” she said.

Robinson also noted that the reason Garfield County has a “world-class air testing program … is because the citizens and groups like the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance demanded that they have more testing.”

The Air Quality Control Commission is scheduled to hold a formal public hearing on the proposed rules Feb. 19-21 in Aurora.

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The Post Independent Updated Jan 31, 2014 10:16PM Published Feb 4, 2014 03:41PM Copyright 2014 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.