DENVER – Air pollution wafting into Colorado from Asia could give the Environmental Protection Agency a basis for letting the state off the hook as a “serious” violator of federal health standards, relaxing pressure to tighten emission controls on oil and gas and other industries along the Front Range.
But Gov. Jared Polis has directed state air officials not to pursue that exemption. Instead, he’s ordered work to cut the pollution Colorado can control — shifting to electric vehicles and renewable energy, reducing oil and gas emissions — so that the state no longer flunks.
“We can’t use pollution from China as an excuse not to improve our air quality here in Colorado,” Polis said. “We must act with a sense of urgency to reduce smog. That means we can’t sit back and rely on a waiver or other countries to get us there. We have to do everything in our power right here at home.”
Colorado’s evolving posture emerged Thursday as the state Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Quality Control Commission rejected a push by a pro-industry group called Defend Colorado to pursue an “international contributions” exemption that would reduce the state’s responsibility under the federal Clean Air Act.
State air monitoring for years has detected pollution traced to China, likely from coal-burning power plants. And analysts have estimated it could account for at least 5 parts per billion of the ground-level ozone smog measured along Colorado’s Front Range — enough, if it was exempted, to reduce the severity of Colorado’s violations of federal health standards.
The air quality commissioners on Thursday voted unanimously to not hold a hearing to explore that exemption based on advice conveyed in an executive session that Defend Colorado lacks legal standing.