Garfield and Mesa counties are among nine statewide that are jointly suing the state over new oil and gas air-quality rules that the counties say unfairly impact rural areas including western Colorado.
The counties are suing the Air Quality Control Commission, Air Pollution Control Division and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over rules the commission adopted in December. The rules are among a suite of new regulations that state agencies are adopting to comply with last year’s Senate Bill 181, which rewrites how oil and gas development is to be governed in the state.
Other plaintiffs in the suit include Moffat and Rio Blanco counties in northwest Colorado and Cheyenne, Logan, Phillips, Sedgwick and Yuma counties elsewhere in the state.
“Rather than regulating for all Coloradoans, as the Air Pollution Prevention Control Act requires, the Air Quality Control Commission took a one-size-fits-all approach that assumed its new regulations would impose roughly equal costs on all Coloradoans. That assumption was false,” the suit says. “The diversity of Colorado’s economy – and, in particular, the heavy reliance many western and rural counties place on oil and gas activity – means those counties will bear a disproportionate share of the costs of the Commission’s increased regulation.”
The counties make up part of what’s called the Western and Rural Local Government Coalition, which consists of 15 counties and eight municipalities and jointly participated in the air-quality rulemaking process.
The suit says the coalition supported most of the air-regulation revisions the Air Pollution Control Division proposed, “including cost-effective regulations designed to reduce methane and ozone-forming VOCs,” or volatile organic compounds. But the counties are challenging a few of the new measures, among them:
• requiring emissions controls on storage tanks emitting more than 2 tons per year of VOCs outside of a Front Range area that isn’t in attainment with federal ozone standards;
• requiring semi-annual leak detection and repair inspections for facilities with tanks emitting from two to 12 tons per year of VOCs outside the nonattainment area;
• Requiring quarterly leak detection and repair within 1,000 feet of “occupied areas” for facilities emitting two to 12 tons per year, and monthly for those emitting more.
The suit says the provisions elsewhere in the state won’t meaningfully improve air quality in the ozone nonattainment area, and will result in fewer benefits and higher relative costs in the case of wells such as locally in the Piceance Basin, where the wells primarily produce gas instead of oil and many facilities have only a few wells. An economist testified to regulators on behalf of the coalition that the result will be the loss of 55 to 280 jobs, $1.5 million to $7.6 million in labor income losses, and $750,000 to $3.8 million in lost tax revenues for local governments, the suit says.
“We have banded together to provide a rural voice for the public welfare, environmental concerns and economic viability of our communities,” Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said in a news release. “In this particular case, we have a simple ask of the Air Commission, which is for rules developed in a fair manner that recognize our needs as well as our successful efforts to protect air quality, without unnecessarily damaging our local economy.”
The suit says citizen groups, locally including the Western Colorado Alliance and Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, that requested the stepped-up leak detection rules near occupied areas initially proposed them for building units, a less-far-reaching category. Those groups should have provided a revised economic impact analysis of their revised, broader proposal, the suit says.
Leslie Robinson, chair of GVCA, said by email, “It is maddening that Garfield County has chosen to fight new clean air regulations that were approved after overwhelming local public comment and support so that our health and environment would be better protected in the O&G (oil and gas) fields. It is also disappointing that (Garfield) commissioners are spending taxpayer funds to defend the O&G industry when the industry has more than enough money and lawyers to file the lawsuit themselves.”
Robinson said Garfield residents must ask why their commissioners are supporting increasing industry air pollution over the objections of their constituents. She said the commissioners are supposedly questioning a proposed limestone quarry expansion in Glenwood Springs in part because of air-quality impacts, but aren’t concerned about air quality in Battlement Mesa from gas development.
“What’s the difference?” she said.
Media representatives within CDPHE — which is currently swamped with coronavirus-related issues — weren’t able to immediately provide comment on the suit.