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Federal government officials have proposed expanding the area along Colorado’s Front Range where air quality violates national health standards for ground-level ozone pollution, saying Wednesday they want to add the northern half of Weld County.
This Environmental Protection Agency proposal follows lawsuits filed in 2018 by a coalition of clean air advocates who pointed to volatile organic compound pollution from oil and gas operations. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., last year agreed that the EPA had failed to properly factor in the pollution from industrial facilities.
For more than a decade, the air quality across multiple Front Range counties has flunked federal health standards. In 2020, the EPA declared Colorado a serious violator, reclassifying the state from moderate, and triggering a requirement that Colorado reduce VOCs and nitrogen oxides air pollution by this year.
The latest EPA proposal means the air residents breathe across Denver, Boulder, Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson, Weld and part of Larimer counties likely fails to meet the national health standard of 70 parts per billion for ozone pollution. Ozone levels in metro Denver last summer reached as high as 90 ppb, state data shows.
Ozone causes acute respiratory problems and triggers asthma attacks.
“After state officials let the fracked gas and oil industry pollute our beautiful Colorado skies with asthma-causing smog for more than a decade, it’s refreshing to see the Biden administration EPA standing up to the them,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “This step helps get us closer to the renewable energy economy of the future that will provide clean air not only for people but also wildlife and plants.”
EPA officials opened a 30-day period for public comment and a 120-day period for state governments to provide information and challenge the proposal.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Previously, state air pollution control officials said they planned to ensure reductions by tightening permitting for industrial operations and controlling emissions from facilities that emit more than 50 tons of pollution a year, down from a previous permitting threshold of 100 tons.