Air quality commissioner subverts objectivity

We, the Rio Blanco County commissioners, are writing regarding the recent article that appeared in The Daily Sentinel on Aug. 18, “New rules to Combat Denver Ozone Levels Could Apply Statewide.”

We were extremely disappointed to see numerous inaccurate and inappropriate statements from the Air Quality Control Commission’s administrator, Michael Silverstein, appear in that article. These statements seriously call into question whether he remains fit to guide the commission through an objective, open-minded rulemaking process as required by law.

As you may be aware, the oil and gas rulemaking at issue has been officially noticed and the formal rulemaking process is underway. This triggers various procedural requirements and protections under the commission’s rules, all designed to preserve the commission’s objectivity and ensure due process for all interested parties. The timing of Mr. Silverstein’s remarks — two months before the hearing and after the formal rulemaking process has begun — is highly inappropriate and threatens all parties’, and particularly the West Slope operators’, ability to receive a fair and objective hearing.

Mr. Silverstein’s remarks also are misleading and appear geared toward stating the rationale for expanding this rule statewide — which would directly contradict the scope proposed by the Air Pollution Control Division. For example, Mr. Silverstein is quoted as saying “All of Colorado contributes to each other’s air quality problems” and goes on to state “that’s especially the case when it comes to ozone, a regional pollutant derived from a number of different compounds.” The scientific and technical data on this issue at best are inconclusive, but more likely demonstrate precisely the opposite — volatile organic compounds and other emissions from the West Slope and other parts of the state play virtually no role in ozone creation along the Front Range. Even if it were true and supported by data, why is the administrator weighing in on this highly technical and complex scientific issue at this point in the process? How is that consistent with the mission of the commission to remain objective and the administrator’s obligation to ensure due process?

The article also attributes Mr. Silverstein as saying “the nine-member” commission “specifically requested” that the rulemaking notice be issued to consider new statewide rules. Mr. Silverstein went on to say that “part of the thinking” is that the “new rules should provide a level playing field to the industry across the state and that all Coloradans should get the same protection from emissions.” There are so many problems with these statements it is hard to know where to start.

It was one commissioner, not all nine, who asked for a broadly drafted notice. The statements also ignore the fact that the current Colorado oil and gas rules adopted in 2014 and applied statewide provide a level playing field for all Coloradans. And it is inappropriate for the administrator to be opining about the commission’s “thinking” or creating the impression that the full commission would like to see statewide rules.

In short, we remain very troubled by Mr. Silverstein’s public statements in the Aug. 17 article and hope action will be taken to rectify the very real damage these comments present to the validity and objectivity of the upcoming rulemaking hearing.

The Rio Blanco Board of County Commissioners consists of Shawn Bolton, chairman, Jeff Rector and Si Woodruff.


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