Garfield County leads lawsuit over oil and gas regulations
Garfield County and nine other Colorado counties are suing a state commission to challenge approved oil and gas regulations they say could devastate local economies.
The suit, filed March 12 in Denver District Court, seeks to strike down some aspects of the December Colorado Air Quality Control Commission’s statewide rules, which were part of the controversial Senate Bill 181 passed in 2019.
The rules were not developed in a fair manner, according to the complaint filed by the Western and Rural Local Government Coalition, of which Garfield County is a member.
According to the complaint, the air commission “violated it’s own regulations” when it adopted a revised proposal from three community groups, including the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, without giving a reasonable time for other parties to respond.
What’s more, the rules didn’t take into account the damage to local economies in rural counties, according to the complaint.
“The Air Quality Control Commission is required to analyze the economic impacts, and they didn’t do that,” Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said in an interview. “We have banded together to provide a rural voice for the public welfare, environmental concerns and economic viability of our communities.”
In one estimate noted in the complaint, the rules would result in hundreds of lost jobs and between $757,000 to $3.8 million of lost tax revenues for rural counties.
Garfield County has around 11,000 active wells, and some of them nearing the end of operational life, Jankovsky said.
“It would be a crime to have to shut those down because the air quality rules make them not economical to run. The rules cost more than the gas they’re producing on an annual basis,” Jankovsky said.
Garfield County hopes the lawsuit will result in striking down four aspects of the new rules the county says would be overly burdensome on oil and gas operators, and contribute little to improved air quality.
While the rules are supposed to benefit all of Colorado, “there is little benefit to the increased regulations challenged herein for Colorado’s western and rural counties, as those areas already meet or exceed the federal health-based standards,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit lists four aspects of the rules that should be struck down. Those include reduction in the regulatory threshold for storage tanks, increased semi-annual testing requirements, rules related to loading-trucks, and new regulations about wells near “occupied areas,” a term not previously used in the commission’s rulemaking.
Joining Garfield County in the lawsuit against the regulations are Cheyenne, Logan, Mesa, Moffat, Phillips, Rio Blanco, Kit Carson, Sedgewick and Yuma counties.
Before unanimously approving the rules Dec. 19, the commission held a public meeting in Rifle Dec. 10 before where many Western Slope residents spoke in favor of the rules, including Grand Valley Citizens Alliance member and Rifle resident Leslie Robinson.
“Since air knows no political boundaries, any source of air pollution in Colorado is of concern to all citizens who want their families to breathe clean air,” Robinson said after the rules were passed.
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UPDATE: Both westbound lanes and one eastbound lane of Interstate 70, according to a 12:20 a.m. update from Garfield County.