Counterpoint: One-size-fits-all air quality rules mean rural Coloradans will pay for Front Range pollution
and Jon Becker
Denver and the north Front Range have an ozone problem, and our state regulators — as well as a variety of anti-oil and gas groups — want rural Coloradans to help pay to fix it. Problem is, only the Front Range can truly fix this issue. Rural economies may become collateral damage if the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division and some like-minded groups get their way next week at a rulemaking hearing in Denver.
The Western and Rural Local Governments Coalition, of which Garfield County is a leading member, consists of 23 counties and towns in rural western and eastern Colorado. We represent 30% of Colorado’s land area and 45% of active oil and gas wells.
Our coalition supports most of the new state regulator-proposed oil and gas rules, which include measures that are more stringent than anywhere else in the country. However, we have drawn the line just short of the full package of aggressive controls being proposed. This is the coalition’s effort to spare rural economies a great expense, coupled with little or no prospect for solving the true causes of the air quality problem: Front Range growth, transportation, oil and gas activity, and complex topography and weather. The true causes of the ozone problem in Denver are not ones for which rural Coloradans should be paying, and make no mistake, we will pay dearly if the state and other parties get their way.
We support proposed revisions to oil and gas air quality regulations that will reduce methane and ozone-forming volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, because we value clean air and protecting the environment for our citizens. We draw the line at several extreme proposed controls that will inflict great cost and economic consequences on western and rural Colorado and produce little to no benefit to air quality.
The good thing is that Colorado law is on our side in this regard, requiring that costs and benefits be balanced, and affected persons, like rural Coloradans who already enjoy good air quality, be spared the economic hardship of one-size-fits-all rules meant to address Denver’s ozone problem.
There’s a lot of talk about these proposed air regulations being adopted as a part of Senate Bill 19-181, which passed last April and is intended to provide additional public welfare protections regarding the conduct of oil and gas operations. Our concern is how the proposed regulations will harm public welfare in rural Colorado, and it should be your concern, too.
Much of the talk in favor of the most extreme proposed air emission control requirements is based on emotional — rather than fact-based — appeals for uniform, statewide rules thought to be necessary to protect public health. One such appeal is that uniform controls are needed to provide everyone equal protections, but this is not true.
Federal ozone standards protect everyone, and the most extreme measures are warranted only in areas that don’t meet health-based standards or are contributing materially to the failure to meet those standards.
Another common claim is that western and rural areas have a serious ozone problem. The fact is, air quality in western and rural counties is good and even improving. Since 2008, Garfield County has invested in ozone and VOC air monitoring, and studies prove this point beyond any doubt.
We are greatly concerned for the public welfare of rural Coloradans, and the harm that will result from imposing these extreme air-emission controls, which are only appropriate for Denver and the north Front Range. This misapplication of aggressive controls on rural clean air regions will have serious economic consequences for our counties and communities.
We believe significant emission control costs will force operators of the lowest producing and emitting wells to simply “shut in” these wells and terminate production, cutting off revenue that supports essential public services and programs in rural Colorado.
State regulators are ignoring the very real economic consequences of adopting their proposed rules statewide. If you’re like us, a son or daughter of rural Colorado, this should scare you. Thinking about the harm these extreme and ineffective air emissions controls will cause western and rural Colorado takes our breath away — and it should yours, too.
John F. Martin is the Chair of the Garfiled Board of County Commissioners. Jon Becker is the District 2 commissioner for Morgan County.
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