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GarCo Commissioner column: Some new air quality regs harm local economy

Tom Jankovsky
Garfield County Commissioner
Tom Jankovsky

Questions have been raised recently about Garfield County’s participation in state oil and gas rulemakings and the lawsuit 10 rural counties, including Garfield County, brought against the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC).

The suit pertains to a handful of rules regarding oil and gas operations the AQCC adopted in December 2019. I am taking this opportunity to share our rationale for taking these thoughtful and important actions.

Please understand Garfield County strongly supported over 90 percent of the rules proposed and adopted by the AQCC. Simply put, the rule revisions we are challenging pose significant economic harm to rural Colorado and Garfield County with little to no environmental benefit.

In December, when hearings were conducted on the rules, we brought experts to the table to weigh in on the costs versus benefits inherent in these rules.

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As your elected official, it’s my responsibility to ensure public policies that impact the health and well-being of our county are promptly and fairly addressed.

Through participation in public hearings and subsequent legal action, we can work toward the best outcome in a way that provides both environmental protection and economic viability for our local communities.

Despite what you may have heard or read about this lawsuit, ensuring environmental protection and our economic sustainability aren’t mutually exclusive. This isn’t about picking the economy over clean air or vice versa.

State law and common sense dictate effective and fair public policy efforts should balance environmental protection with economic well-being. Where the current approach to rulemaking from both the AQCC and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) fails to meet that balance, we are duty-bound as elected officials to speak up and are doing that through the judicial system and rulemaking participation.

We are not alone in these beliefs. We have joined nine other rural counties from the Western Slope and Eastern Plains in support of this lawsuit.

Our citizens should understand that if adopted, the rules we are challenging not only hurt Garfield and other rural counties but do very little to assist Front Range counties in meeting the federal ozone standards for which they are currently out of compliance.

Even if oil and gas emissions outside the Front Range were 100-percent eliminated, it would only decrease ozone in the Front Range by a miniscule amount. Yet, adopting these rules is cost-prohibitive for low-producing wells, the vast majority of which are found in rural counties.  

By making low-producing wells uneconomic, the challenged rules place greater fiscal pressure on rural counties, municipalities and special districts. The result is a reduction in mineral tax revenues of close to $3.8 million per year. This reduction cuts into our public services such as police and fire protection, schools, libraries, community health care and other social services.

In addition, this reduction represents lost jobs, lost sales tax and royalties paid to mineral owners. As an elected official and knowing these few rules won’t help our local air quality, it would be irresponsible to let this happen without putting up a fight. This isn’t about defending an industry; it’s about holding the state accountable to follow the law and enact common-sense, cost-effective policies that protect our people, environment and economy.

As Garfield County residents, we value clean air and have a proven track record of protecting it. Since 2008, total volatile organic compound (VOC) levels have continued to drop even during peak periods of oil and gas production in the county. We know this because since 2008 Garfield County has invested millions of dollars to monitor and protect air quality.

We’ve always been able to readily meet and exceed federal ozone and other health-based standards. We’ve imposed best management practices and added mitigation measures for operators with locations close to residential development areas such as Battlement Mesa. Our approach has been flexible and case specific, rather than a “one size fits all” approach as is the case with the few state rules we’re actively opposing.

Through SB19-181 the state has scheduled over a dozen major oil & gas rulemakings for 2020 and 2021. We support this important effort and have created the Western and Rural Local Government (WRLG) Coalition (westernruralcoalition.com) of 14 rural counties and eight municipalities. The coalition banded together to provide a fair and representative rural voice for strong regulations that protect the public welfare, environmental concerns and the economic viability of our communities.

I ask that you not buy into a false choice. Our policy approach to this issue is not binary and we ask that county residents not be misled into thinking they must choose between strong environmental protection and economic stability.

As county commissioners we use a science-based and data-driven approach to protect air quality, the local economy and the public services we all use. It is our sworn duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of Garfield County. I hope this guest column helps you understand and appreciate our recent actions.  Please reach out with any questions or comments.

Tom Jankovsky is a Garfield County commissioner.


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