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Colorado's air-monitoring settlement with Suncor is flawed and prioritizes energy company's interests, environmentalists say

Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post on

Published in News & Features

Six environmental groups on Tuesday filed a legal brief saying they do not support a recent settlement between Colorado and Suncor Energy over an air-quality monitoring program at the company’s Commerce City oil refinery.

The six groups said the agreement is flawed and they were not given enough time to review and respond before the settlement was filed earlier this month.

The agreement will cause more delays in getting the fenceline air-monitoring program started and it will not cover the entire boundary of Suncor’s property, according to the groups’ response to a settlement motion filed in Adams County District Court. The groups also questioned whether the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will be able to enforce the agreement, particularly a new requirement for Suncor to monitor for six pollutants rather than three.

“The settlement agreement adopts a fenceline monitoring plan that is imperfect, prioritizing Suncor’s interests over the communities’ concerns,” said Robert Rigonan, an associate attorney with Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office, who represented the six groups in court. “While it is a modest stride toward the accountability promised to these communities by the Colorado legislature, more must be done to ensure the plan makes a meaningful impact on the ground.”

The lawsuit settlement was announced on Feb. 5 as a part of an agreement that also brought a $10.5 million penalty for Suncor for spewing excessive amounts of toxic chemicals into the air.

Michael Ogletree, director of the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, said the division worked hard to get the best possible outcome through a settlement rather than wait for litigation to unfold in the courts.

 

“These new fenceline monitoring requirements mean local communities surrounding Suncor will have access to more information on air quality than ever before,” Ogletree said. “The Air Pollution Control Division prioritized getting communities the information they need without further delay.”

The Colorado legislature in 2021 required Suncor and three other industrial facilities to install an air monitoring system around their borders to measure for hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide and benzene.

Suncor was the first company to put a fenceline monitoring program in place, but the Canadian oil and gas company did not like the plan the state health department wrote for the refinery because it went above the minimum state requirements for pollution monitoring. So Suncor sued Colorado’s environmental regulators in 2022..

The six environmental groups — GreenLatinos, Elyria Swansea Neighborhood Association, Healthy Air and Water Colorado, Sierra Club and Womxn from the Mountain — signed on the lawsuit as intervenors, which would give them the right to file briefs and bring evidence to trial. They were represented by Earthjustice.

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