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Environment big winner in pollution settlement

American Soda will inject up to $583,500 into Garfield County for environmental projects and education, as part of a settlement over air pollution violations.The funding is part of a $1.2 million settlement reached between American Soda and the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission earlier this month.The violations occurred at American Soda’s mine in the Piceance Basin and at its processing facility near Parachute.”It was important to us for the money to go here,” said American Soda general manager Charlie Yates. “This is where we do business.”Businesses, nonprofits, individuals, municipalities and schools in Mesa and Rio Blanco counties are also eligible for money from the fund, which will be administered by the non-profit Strategic Environmental Project Pipeline Foundation, called StEPP.”That’s the beauty of this settlement,” said StEPP Foundation director Ellen Drew.American Soda mines nahcolite in the Piceance Basin north of Parachute and processes it into baking soda and soda ash, which is used to make glass, Yates said. Operations began in October 2000.Yates said most of the emission violations came from a tall vent stack that emits nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, particulates, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds. The designers didn’t anticipate emitting any particulates and expected emissions of only low levels of volatile organic compounds, Yates said.Instead, the stack emits some particulates, and higher levels of volatile organic compounds than the company’s state and federal air quality permits allow. “So we were wrong in both cases,” Yates said.Yates said the emissions are not a health hazard. “The particulates are baking soda, and the volatile organic compounds are very low-level,” Yates said. “There’s absolutely no danger to human health.”Yates said he expects the emission problems will be corrected by 2004, and regulations will be met. “I don’t think we are at risk,” Yates said.Jill Cooper, a state attorney who negotiated the American Soda settlement, said the company reported possible infractions last year, and a state inspector helped confirm them. The total settlement comes to $1.2 million and breaks down as follows:-A $294,500 fine to be paid to the state government.-$583,500 to be used for grants and loans for projects such as alternative energy, pollution prevention and air quality monitoring in Garfield, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties.-$300,000 to improve western Colorado watersheds damaged in last summer’s wildfires.”That’s a big penalty,” Cooper said. “It’s the third or fourth highest of the year.”Yates said he expects the wildfire-related fund to go to municipalities whose water systems were damaged last summer.This project administering grants and loans from the settlement will be one of the first efforts for the StEPP Foundation. The nonprofit is based in Golden, and was founded in July 2001. The organization’s primary mission is to “increase the number of energy efficiency, renewable and pollution prevention projects implemented for the benefit of the public.”Drew said StEPP expects to send out requests for proposals from cities, town, nonprofits, schools and businesses in two weeks.She will hold workshops over the next three months to help applicants with their proposals. She estimates the $583,500 will fund one to 10 projects. The projects must be able to show measurable results. “We need these to be successful,” Drew said.For information, call Ellen Drew at (303) 277-0932, or visit the StEPP Web site at http://www.stepfoundation.org.


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