NewsCovering Colorado


Pueblo coalition urges lawmakers to consider harm of environmental policies

Pueblo Strong Rally.jpeg
Posted at 7:24 PM, Mar 20, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-20 21:24:48-04

DENVER, Colorado — Labor, business, and government leaders from Pueblo are campaigning together against proposed changes to state environmental laws. The coalition calls itself Pueblo Strong.

Its members include local steelworkers unions, Pueblo city government, the chamber of commerce, and the economic development corporation. The group held a rally on the steps of the State Capitol Wednesday afternoon to send the message that blue-collar jobs are at risk.

"If we lose a crew, if we lose an entire department of the mill for a certain amount of time, that's not going to be good," said Chuck Perko, President of the United Steelworkers of America Local #3267. "We're going to deal with layoffs and unemployment, and we don't want that."

The two bills that have drawn the ire of the Steel City are Senate Bill 24-166, and House Bill 24-1338. Both measures expand existing air quality regulations.

The Senate Bill would allow individuals to sue manufacturers for air pollution violations beyond any penalties issued by state inspectors.

"We are being challenged by proposals in this building that are well-intentioned but will hurt working families and our entire community," Pueblo Mayor Heather Graham said.

The House bill creates a new Office of Environmental Justice and gives local communities the power to increase air pollution standards. The coalition said the legislature is ignoring efforts by Pueblo companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

"Many of our companies are already at 95 percent emissions efficiency," said Duane Nava, President and CEO of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce. "Technology does not exist yet to take that number any higher.

Steel manufacturing is a carbon-intensive industry. Every ton of steel produced globally generates an estimated 1.85 tons of carbon emissions. Traditional steel manufacturing from raw materials requires burning coal to make coke which generates even higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Perko explained that EVRAZ Pueblo is the state's largest recycler, producing its steel by melting scrap metal in an electric arc furnace. The furnace is powered by a 300-megawatt solar array, making it the world's only solar-powered steel mill.

"We cast it into raw billets that we use to roll our final product using entirely the power of the sun," he said.

But the arc furnace also generates carbon emissions. Perko fears the litigation powers created by the Senate bill could force work stoppages in the steel-making department.

"We may have to buy steel if our steel-making department has to reduce its capacity."

Such a move would trigger layoffs and job losses.

"I don't think (the legislature is) aware of what necessarily is manufactured in Pueblo, with the steps that are taken, how the clean the manufacturing is," said Jeff Shaw, President and CEO of the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation.

He explained the legislation increases the risk of harm to manufacturers in Pueblo beyond the steel mill. He also worries it could hamper efforts to attract new manufacturers to locate in the community.

"This type of legislation affects everybody that has an air permit, as well as our ability to bring in companies that need an air permit. It's already difficult to get an air permit as it is," Shaw said.

Coalition members gave testimony during the initial committee hearing in the State Senate on Wednesday. The House bill will have its first committee hearing on Thursday.

The coalition has also created an online petition against the two bills.

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