DENVER – Denver and the northern Front Range are now considered “severe” violators of federal air quality standards after failing to reduce ozone levels, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday, which could result in higher gas prices and more regulations for businesses across the state.
The reclassification from the EPA means Colorado would not only have to switch to “reformulated gasoline” (a blend of gasoline that burns more cleanly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) during the summer months, but businesses would also be subjected to more regulations on emissions under the U.S. Clean Air Act.
AAA Colorado officials say the switch to reformulated gasoline would cost consumers between 5-10% more than typical gasoline.
In a statement released Friday, however, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) officials argued that while the EPA requires areas classified as “severe” to switch to reformulated gasoline, Colorado does not need to do so to reach the ozone attainment goals as expert modeling shows the state can reach 2008 ozone attainment standards by 2026 without relying on the switch.
State health officials said they have asked the EPA to re-evaluate the requirement and are “committed to doing everything possible to avoid it.” In response, the EPA said it would work with Colorado “to explore all flexibilities that may be available under the Act to best meet Colorado’s implementation needs and public health goals of the law.”
The downgrade – a result of missing multiple deadlines over the past several years to bring ground-level ozone levels to 2008 and 2015 standard thresholds, the latest being July 2021 – will affect nearly 500 businesses that could be required to apply for Title V air permits, according to our partners at The Denver Post.
Additionally, as many as 600 oil and gas facilities and about 100 more industrial sites would be subjected to more stringent permits from the CDPHE’s Air Pollution Control Division. Facilities will have a year to submit a new Title V air permit or a synthetic minor permit, after which the division will have 18 months to issue those permits.
Policy changes are key to creating change, according to Pegah Jalali, an environmental policy analyst for the nonprofit Colorado Fiscal Institute, following one of the worst periods of air quality for Colorado in summer 2021.
So far, Colorado has enacted new rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of improving air quality by taking the equivalent of 300,00 cars off the road each year.
Earlier this year, the Colorado General Assembly approved $47 million for the division to hire dozens of air monitoring employees and purchase more monitoring equipment. It was also pushing for more measures to electrify more school buses, increase the use of mass and multimodal transit, and reduce other sources of pollution.
Is there anything you can do? Yes you can.
Experts recommend driving as little as possible, carpooling, or taking public transit whenever available. Working from home is also a good idea if your employer allows it.
If you can’t do those first two things, experts recommend that you make sure your car is tuned up. A well-running car means more fuel efficiency which means less pollution.
Thinking about filling up your gas tank? Don’t do it during the day. Experts say filling up your gas tank during the day releases those same organic compounds and allows the sun to photochemically convert them into ozone more quickly than would be the case in the evening.
If you need to do yardwork, do it during days when the air quality is good or outright in the evening. The recommendation isn’t just about mowing the lawn but using any type of gas-powered landscaping tool.
CDPHE officials said in a news release Friday the Regional Air Quality Council and the Air Pollution Control Division have created a State Implementation Plan to reduce ozone pollution levels to meet federal standards in under four years.
The Air Quality Control Commission will consider whether to adopt the plan in December before forwarding it to the state legislature.