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New bill would put climate scientist, person of color on board that regulates Colorado's air quality

Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post on

Published in Science & Technology News

A bill filed this week in the Colorado legislature would change the makeup of the state’s Air Quality Control Commission as the legislation’s sponsors try to increase protections for low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, which bear the brunt of pollution.

The commission, which sets the rules and regulations for polluters, would increase to 11 seats from nine if the bill passes. The two additional seats would be filled by a climate scientist and a person representing a disproportionately impacted community, which typically are heavily polluted neighborhoods with a majority of residents who are Black, Latino, Indigenous or low-income.

“Honestly, the AQCC feels like we are lacking the voices of the people most impacted. We certainly need scientists on it,” said Ean Tafoya, executive director of GreenLatinos Colorado. “Industry just has such a powerful voice and we need to find a way to make sure our voices are part of the conversation, too.”

Neither of the new appointees would be permitted to work for any company or organization impacted by the commission’s decisions, and that provision would not apply to the other nine seats, said Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Adams County. The commission’s members are appointed by the governor.

The bill, HB24-1339, also would reverse a rule created in September by the air quality commission that allows the state’s 18 largest manufacturers to pay into a fund rather than investing in technology that would help them cut their greenhouse gas emissions. The commission had been instructed by the legislature to create a policy that would force those companies to reduce emissions.

That rule angered environmentalists, who said it created a pay-to-pollute loophole that would exempt businesses from making actual reductions.

“There was some disappointment with it,” Weissman said. “I’ve heard from a lot of folks in the environmental justice community about how things went and that the outcome didn’t follow the legislative intent.”

 

The bill, sponsored by three Democrats, is not attempting a complete do-over of the commission’s work, but Weissman said he and the other co-sponsors want to bring it more in line with the legislature’s original intent.

The bill focuses on improving air quality in disproportionately impacted communities, and its sponsors hope it improves upon the legislature’s 2021 Environmental Justice Act because they believe the state will miss its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in communities such as Commerce City and north Denver, Pueblo and the San Luis Valley.

The bill would require the commission to establish greenhouse gas reductions for specific polluters that are located in disproportionately impacted communities. For example, the commission could tell the Suncor Energy refinery in Commerce City that it needs to cut more tons of emissions than other businesses because it is considered a major polluter, records repeated violations and sits next to neighborhoods that are majority Latino, Indigenous and Black.

“We can’t change the past but we can be a lot more aware and intentional going forward with how our environmental policy addresses this,” Weissman said. “We don’t want certain communities to bear more burden than they ought to.”

Last week, Democrats introduced a slate of bills that tackle the state’s poor air quality. Most of those target the oil and gas industry, which has pledged to fight the measures.

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