Air Quality Updates

Friends and neighbors, 

As we move past the midway point of this legislative session, I’d like to take the opportunity to talk about air quality – an issue that affects every Coloradan. While we’ve made some progress, we need to do more to improve Colorado’s air quality, especially now. Too many members of our community are familiar with the consequences of prolonged exposure to ozone pollution, which can contribute to a variety of health issues. We also know that industrial pollution affects communities of color and low-income communities the most, making it all the more important to include environmental justice in our conversations about air quality and climate change. That’s why I want to highlight several bills that aim to tackle these issues. These are thoughtful bills that can make a real difference in improving our air quality and our response to climate change. We all have the right to breathe clean air, no matter where we live or how much money we make.


SB24-166: Air Quality Enforcement

Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) does not adequately enforce its air quality regulations, particularly against those who repeatedly violate them. APCD often issues informal warnings or low fines that do not deter polluters from reoffending and fail to support the communities affected by these violations. As a result, polluters continue to negatively impact the air quality in the surrounding communities, contributing to serious health problems for residents and poor air quality in the region. SB24-166 reforms our enforcement approach by creating a “repeat violator” category for polluters with 5+ violations in 3 years, imposing mandatory fines for subsequent violations, creating a pathway for citizens to sue when the APCD fails to act, and increasing maximum fines for violations of local air quality regulations. By cracking down on chronic violators, leveraging public enforcement, and removing barriers to stricter fines, this bill provides stronger tools to deter pollution and protect vulnerable communities from poor air quality caused by inadequate enforcement of existing regulations.


SB24-165: Air Quality Improvements

Colorado’s Denver Metro/North Front Range region has violated federal ozone standards for over a decade, worsening air quality and putting Coloradans health at risk. Past State Implementation Plans (SIPs) developed by the state have fallen short, making bolder action necessary. SB24-165 seeks to reduce emissions of ozone precursors like nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by implementing several measures including a seasonal pause on oil and gas pre-production activities during the summer ozone season (exempting all electrical equipment), adopting California’s strict standards for heavy-duty off-road diesel vehicle fleets, creating a public oil and gas emissions database, requiring an AQCC rulemaking for Indirect Source Rules (ISR) by 2026, and phasing in sales requirements for zero-emission water heaters and furnaces. By cracking down on oil/gas pollution, cleaning up diesel fleets, enabling smarter transportation solutions, electrifying homes/buildings, and securing stronger clean car rules, this bill provides a range of aggressive but achievable measures to advance Colorado’s progress on reducing ozone pollution.


HB24-1330: Air Quality Permitting

For many years, areas of Colorado have failed to meet federal ozone standards. Yet, the state’s permitting processes continued allowing new sources of air pollution that release the harmful pollutants that form ozone, particularly new “minor” sources of pollution which are expected to emit less than 25 tons per year of certain pollutants. Colorado has tens of thousands of minor sources – including many oil and gas wells. But, because they are deemed “minor,” permitting is less strict than for “major” sources. HB24-1330 reforms the permitting process, especially for new “minor” sources in ozone non-attainment areas like Denver Metro/North Front Range, by treating oil and gas operations as one source, ensuring any new “minor” source does not cause or contribute to an exceedance of any applicable ambient air quality standards, and requiring an Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) permit before a final determination is made by the Colorado Energy and Carbon Management Commission (ECMC) to drill or frack. These changes provide important tools to rein in harmful ozone pollution and move Colorado toward clean air compliance.


HB24-1338: Cumulative Impacts & Environmental Justice

Communities of color and low-income communities in Colorado have long been disproportionately affected by pollution. The cumulative impact of air, water, and soil pollution harms the health of our most vulnerable residents. HB24-1338 would establish an Office of Environmental Justice, create a rapid response inspection team, require an assessment of refinery regulations, and authorize local governments to impose limits on certain sources of air pollution in their jurisdictions, all aimed at providing equitable protection to Colorado’s vulnerable populations from environmental health hazards and address long-standing environmental inequities.


HB24-1339: Disproportionately Impact Community Air Pollution

In 2021, the Colorado legislature passed HB21-1266 directing the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to implement rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from industry by at least 20% below 2015 levels by 2030, with a priority on disproportionately impacted communities. However, many environmental and environmental justice groups are concerned that the AQCC’s rules do not meet the emission reduction goals originally intended by HB21-1266. HB24-1339 reaffirms the requirement for AQCC rules to cut industrial greenhouse gas pollution by 20% from 2015 levels by 2030, prioritizing disproportionately impacted communities. It also adds a climate scientist and a representative from a disproportionately impacted community to the AQCC. By reasserting clear emission reduction targets, prioritizing environmental justice, and adding new expert voices to the AQCC, this bill will strengthen greenhouse gas rules for industry and ensure Colorado makes meaningful progress on its climate commitments while protecting vulnerable populations from disproportionate impacts.

That’s all for now and I look forward to sharing more updates with you soon!

Chris

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