Air quality penalties of $400,000 to pay for school bus fixes

Williams Production RMT has paid more than $400,000 that will be used to help reduce pollution by school buses in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties under a settlement with the state over air quality violations.

However, one Garfield commissioner, Tresi Houpt, said the bus retrofit program isn’t the most appropriate use of the fines.

“I do believe in the program, but there are federal monies out there to do these retrofits,” she said.

She thinks the use of the Williams money should be connected to energy development’s effects in the area. One possibility would be to pay for air quality testing in Carbondale to establish baseline data in anticipation of possible future energy development in that area, she said.

Paul Tourangeau, director of the state Air Pollution Control Division, said the state’s always open to hearing ideas for uses of fine money. But he also said the bus program produces quantifiable pollution reductions.

“Any effort to reduce diesel emissions has a good public health benefit,” he said.

The state-run program involves fitting buses with engine pre-heaters, oxidation catalysts and/or crankcase filtration systems. The state notes that children are more susceptible to toxic diesel air pollutants, and that they and drivers spend extended periods in buses.

Robert Sjogren, fleet manager for the Garfield County Re-2 School District, said about 32 of the district’s 44 buses will be retrofitted.

“Anything that may keep the kids a little safer, definitely we’re interested in participating in,” Sjogren said.

The retrofits are scheduled to take place this summer.

Rick Matar, manager of Williams’ air quality department, said the project provides a lot of community benefit for the money spent.

The money comes from two settlements in which a total of about $104,000 in civil penalties also was assessed. Tourangeau said one settlement involved a Rifle natural gas dehydrator site that exceeded permit limits, including for emissions of volatile organic compounds. The second settlement pertained to a number of permitting-related violations at various compressor stations and other sites in the two counties, he said.

Matar said Williams disclosed potential non-compliance matters it discovered in going through its records. He said a review showed compressor stations running under full load year-round would exceed the 2-ton-per-year threshold allowed for volatile organic compound emissions at each station, but actual emissions still are below that amount.

Tourangeau said the settlements address “important, significant elements of noncompliance. We take them very seriously.”


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