DENVER (AP) — The Colorado attorney general’s office will hire an independent investigator to look into whistleblower allegations that the state health department failed to properly enforce federal air quality standards.
The Colorado Department of Law, which is led by Attorney General Phil Weiser, on Monday requested proposals for the investigation of the complaint filed with the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of inspector general on March 30, The Colorado Sun reported Monday. The proposals from independent investigators are due May 10.
The whistleblowers in the complaint alleged that dozens of air pollution permits were issued unlawfully by the health department’s Air Pollution Control Division to companies and that at least one whistleblower was asked to falsify data to get pollution estimates under permitted limits.
The request calls for “an independent and thorough investigation of factual allegations” raised by health department employees Rosendo Majano, De Vondria Reynolds and Bradley Fink.
Chandra Rosenthal, an attorney for one of the whistleblowers, said the decision to launch an independent investigation signals the state’s “commitment to transparency, scientific integrity and combating air pollution.”
A independent investigator is needed because the attorney general would represent the health department and the governor in any future action, said Joe Salazar, executive director of the climate action group Colorado Rising and a former legislator.
The complaint alleged that health department division leaders ignored EPA regulations on modeling and permitting short-term pollutants from important Colorado industries — including mines, asphalt plants and oil and gas gathering sites. The whistleblowers said the permits are part of a larger problem of state officials catering to industry.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Air Pollution Control Division said Monday that they had asked for the probe.
“CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan requested the investigation from the attorney general’s office with the governor’s office’s support,” a statement said. The department also said the division followed state and federal laws, but would be transparent throughout the process.