Local counties and citizen groups will be squaring off in court over recently passed, stricter air-pollution rules applying to the oil and gas industry, if a court allows it.

In late May, seven citizen and conservation groups in Colorado, led by the Western Colorado Alliance, Conservation Colorado and the League of Oil & Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC), filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit brought by 10 counties in Colorado to challenge some of the rules approved by the Air Quality Control Commission. Garfield County is leading that legal challenge, with Mesa, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties being among other the other counties joining in it.

That county coalition opposes the effort by activists to intervene, while the state has no objection to it, according to the intervention motion. The case is being litigated in Denver District Court.

The activist groups also are trying to become a party in a separate suit brought by Weld County over the same rules. Weld County is opposing that intervention.

The Garfield-led coalition contends the new air rules improperly impose a one-size-fits-all approach across the state, unduly impacting the industry in rural areas, as well as local governments that rely on the industry economically and as a tax base. The coalition specifically objects to tightened rules, outside a Front Range area with an ozone problem, resulting in emissions-control and semi-annual leak detection and repair requirements for storage tanks emitting as little as 2 tons of volatile organic compounds a year.

Among other things, the suit also challenges a proximity rule requiring more frequent leak detection and repair for wells and other facilities within 1,000 feet of occupied areas including homes, neighborhoods, parks and playgrounds.

Emily Hornback, executive director of the Western Colorado Alliance, questions why the Garfield-led coalition is challenging her group’s effort to be a party in the case when its suit cites her group by name in connection with the group’s advocacy for the proximity rule.

“Our people are directly impacted by the outcome of this decision,” which is the main reason her group decided to intervene, she said.

The Western Colorado Alliance supports the group Battlement Concerned Citizens, which pushes for reduced impacts from oil and gas development in and around Battlement Mesa.

“The folks living next to oil and gas wells really want to get those inspections more often,” she said.

She noted that Garfield County required frequent leak detection and repair of oil and gas facilities in Battlement Mesa, but is opposing that approach in the suit.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said the county coalition doesn’t necessarily oppose the increased requirements near homes, but objects to the state commission’s last-minute inclusion of that provision without following its rules and regulations and considering economic impacts versus benefits.

The counties also contend the new rules will force the shutdown of low-producing wells in counties that already have clean air.

“Primarily, the (air) commission needs to listen to local governments’ concerns and take into account not only air quality but the economic damage as well and they did not do that,” Jankovsky said.

He said the suit is a dispute between two levels of Colorado government responsible for environmental policy.

In a motion to dismiss the suit, the state argues in part that as political subdivisions of the state, the counties lack legal standing to sue over the matter.

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