Denver court dismisses Garfield County-led lawsuit challenging clean air rules

Post Independent oil and gas graphic

Editor’s note: This story has been revised and corrected from the original version to reflect that Garfield County’s funding for the lawsuit is just part of the county’s overall $1.5 million allocated to participate in the ongoing SB-191 rulemaking process.

A Denver district judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by 10 counties, including Garfield County, that had challenged new state regulations designed to cut oil and gas industry emissions.

Denver District Court Judge Martin Foster Egelhoff on Tuesday granted a motion by the state of Colorado to dismiss the lawsuit led by Garfield County.

The new rules were adopted by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) in Dec. 2019, and were among the first provisions put in place under Senate Bill 181, the sweeping legislation passed last year that changed the way oil and gas is regulated in the state.

The air quality regulations mandate reductions in ozone-forming pollutants and methane emissions from oil and gas development.

In late July, a different judge dismissed a similar lawsuit filed by Weld County, on the grounds that the county did not have standing to sue the state.

In his Tuesday decision, Egelhoff cited the Weld decision, noting in his written ruling that Garfield County and its coalition “… will not suffer any direct harm or cost from compliance with the revised [regulation], and that the indirect and incidental impacts that may flow from subsequent business decisions of third parties are insufficient to confer standing.”

A coalition of community alliance and conservation groups were recently granted the right to intervene in the state’s defense of the case.

The lawsuit — funded as part of Garfield County’s $1.5 million investment as a participant in the broader SB-191 rulemaking process — sought to overturn a new rule requiring oil and gas companies to conduct more frequent inspection of facilities located within 1,000 feet of homes, playgrounds, schools and other occupied areas.

Garfield County has also argued that the AQCC did not adequately consider local concerns and economic impacts in making the rules, and that smaller well sites in rural areas should be handled differently than the larger Front Range operations.

Community groups, including the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance based in Rifle, had lobbied hard for that requirement to be part of the new regulations.

Egelhoff’s decision allows the new air quality provisions to take effect statewide.

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