Guest Column: Stand strong for new air regs
Western Slope families want the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to adopt and implement common-sense air quality standards that protect the air our children breathe every day.
Recognizing oil and natural gas pollution can have a harmful impact on air quality and the health of children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems, Gov. Hickenlooper, several oil and gas companies, conservation nonprofits and “gas patch” families worked together on draft rules to minimize these emissions.
As a mom and a longtime teacher in Garfield County, I am grateful that elected officials, responsible leaders in the industry and citizens have found a sensible compromise that protects the health of residents while allowing the energy economy to thrive.
The new rule would have the equivalent impact of taking every car off the road in Colorado every year – 92,000 tons of harmful volatile organic chemicals that lead to lung-damaging ozone pollution would be kept out of the air.
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Since 2000, drilling for oil and gas has doubled in Colorado, coinciding with an increase in smog-inducing air pollution around those sites, many close to our neighborhoods, schools and playgrounds.
While pollution from cars and trucks and power plants is dropping, harmful emissions from oil and gas operations are increasing. Large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, are also emitted.
Health studies have shown that exposure to high levels of ozone pollution can lead to lung problems, difficulty breathing, increased susceptibility to infections and other respiratory ailments, such as asthma attacks – a leading cause of hospital visits, especially among children – and even premature deaths. These chemicals can worsen, and maybe cause, gastrointestinal problems and other illnesses.
While the responsible companies want to do the right thing and reduce harmful air pollution, others in the industry want to gut the proposed rule. The proposed rule would cover the entire state, but many in the industry – led by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Colorado Petroleum Association – want the rule to only apply to 15 to 20 percent of the state. They want to pick and choose where to have clean air. We think controlling pollution should be something every responsible company does and clean air is something every community deserves.
In addition, they want to strip the rule of the provisions that would actually reduce air pollution. What they really want is a free pass to pollute our West Slope air. We know we have air pollution problems, but they want to emit even more pollution and make our air even dirtier.
Last fall, the grassroots network I’m affiliated with – Colorado Moms Know Best – researched the proximity of oil and gas wells to schools and found out that, statewide, 931 wells are within 1 mile of a school, 139 wells are within 2,000 feet of a school and 26 wells are within 1,000 feet of a school.
It’s not too much to ask that this profitable industry, where even small companies make tens of millions of dollars, protect public health by using existing technology to detect and repair drilling leaks, stop natural gas venting, use capture technologies on storage tanks, disclose chemical emissions and have zero tolerance for methane emissions.
It has been really refreshing to see rational collaboration among the governor, industry leaders and citizens in developing the draft standards. I urge the commission to stand strong and resist all attempts to weaken the new air quality rules. After all, Colorado kids deserve the chance to breathe clean air.
Ruthann Zlogar is a substitute teacher in Carbondale and a member of Colorado Moms Know Best, a casual network of moms and friends that are looking out for children’s health and well-being by working to protect Colorado’s outdoors and quality of life.
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