Coloradans Call for Real Air Quality Improvement: Bill to Hold Industrial Polluters Accountable Introduced

DENVER, CO - This week, a bill to close regulatory loopholes for industrial polluters and bring Colorado into compliance with the emissions reduction requirements set out in the 2021 Environmental Justice Act, was introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives.

Sponsored by Representatives Mike Weissman and Manny Rutinel, and Senator Faith Winter, House Bill 1339 aims to: ensure near-term emissions reductions from industrial polluters; close the “pay-to-comply” loophole created by the Air Quality Control Commission’s (AQCC) decision in a September 2023 rulemaking; protect disproportionately impacted communities from health-harming pollution through source-specific emission reductions; and, add seats for experts in environmental justice and climate science to the AQCC.

“In spite of important work done in the Legislature to address the state’s air quality crisis and require emissions reductions from industrial polluters, Colorado is off track to meet our statutorily mandated goals,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, D- Aurora. “Coloradans’ health and livelihoods, especially in Disproportionately Impacted Communities, depend on urgent action.  Inadequate pollution reduction rules enacted last year fall short of legislative requirements, and this bill aims to fix that.”

“Pollution from factory operations has a disproportionate impact on low-income communities and communities of color in Colorado,” said Rep. Manny Rutinel D- Commerce City. “This bill requires source-specific emissions reductions from polluters doing the most harm in the most vulnerable communities; if it's too toxic for the wealthiest few, it is too toxic for everyone.”

Community members and environmental advocates are joining together to support this legislation and strong action on air quality more broadly. Read their statements below:

“People need to understand that for over a century, unregulated and under regulated industrial pollution has harmed people and the biosphere,” said Ean Thomas Tafoya GreenLatinos Colorado State Director, Co-Chair of the Environmental Justice Action Task Force. “In the wake of COVID and George Floyd our communities came together across the state to challenge a Veto threat from Gov Polis. To pass the Environmental Justice Act - we even marched on his home with his local representatives and leaders from across the state to demand the protections of our human rights and to ensure equitable climate action. GreenLatinos staff and members dedicated themselves to the task force and these regulatory processes for years. Only to come up short and see the legislative intent be lost in a broken public regulatory process that favors industry resulting in reduced protections for legally defined disproportionately impacted communities and policies that allow emissions to rise while polluters pay instead of innovating. This bill is meant to fix these mistakes. Justice with Prevail.”

“Recent polling data confirms what we already knew: A vast majority of Coloradans (8 out of 10 voters) support preventing corporations from polluting our air at levels that are unsafe for our health,” said Megan Kemp, Policy and Advocacy Manager for Healthy Air and Water Colorado. “This bill will help Colorado communities, especially those on the frontlines of disproportionate pollution, by requiring real and near-term pollution reductions. This will help get Colorado back on track to meet its climate goals while protecting public health from the dangerous impacts of industrial pollution.”

"In a climate crisis, it's imperative that we rapidly cut pollution from every sector and that includes industry just as much as it includes transportation and electricity," said Ramesh Bhatt, Political Committee Chair at Colorado Sierra Club. "The proposed bill seeks to achieve this by closing loopholes and insufficient requirements in current regulations and it will bolster the voice of disproportionately impacted communities who face dangerous pollutants on a daily basis who state agencies have not done enough to engage."

“Colorado disproportionately impacted communities have had to work hard to not only be acknowledged through the EJ Act, but to fight for enforceable protections from cumulative impacts of pollutants to our air, creating some of the most polluted and redlined zip codes in our nation." said Renée M. Chacon, Co Founder of Womxn from the Mountain, EJ Action Task Force Member. “Industry has often left our regulatory systems broken by creating loopholes for polluters to pay a fee for worsening our air quality instead of meeting targeted goals to reduce pollution to DIC, this proposed bill will finally bring the protection and validation our communities need to protect ourselves from the harms already done.”

"Since the Environmental Justice Act was signed into law two and a half years ago, we've lost sight of its goals, leaving the air in Colorado’s most polluted communities heavy with unmet promises," said Boulder County Commissioner Ashley Stolzmann. "This bill puts us back on the right path by ensuring reductions in pollution, closing the loophole that allows companies to pay their way out of pollution limits, and ensuring the Air Quality Control Commission includes environmental justice representatives and climate experts. It's time to listen to the community voices that have been ignored and make good on our promise for a safer, fairer future for all Coloradans. Taking the health of disproportionately impacted communities requires us to act with integrity, empathy, and bold action, and this bill delivers on that."

“In the summer, when my boys ask if we can go to the pool I now tell them it depends on the air quality and oftentimes we make the choice to stay indoors.  With the front range being in severe nonattainment and corresponding health impacts to children, we no longer open our windows to cool off our house at night.  Due to poor air quality and ozone issues it’s safer for our children’s little lungs to be inside on screens rather than playing outside.  This is not the world that we want for the children of Colorado.” said Harmony Cummings, mother, Founder of The Green House Connection Center, Co Chair Denver Mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Council - Environmental Justice Committee. “People come to Colorado for the great outdoors unaware that our air is often unsafe to breathe, It’s our dirty secret.”

"Polluters shouldn't have the option to pay their way out of compliance with air quality regulations," said Sara Loflin of ProgressNow Colorado. "It's time to get serious with chronic polluters and keep the promises we've made to voters and future generations to reduce pollution and fight climate change. And it's time to add qualified scientists to the Air Quality Control Commission who understand the combined threat of toxic industrial pollution and human-caused climate change."

“As health professionals and allies, we call attention to the very real and immediate impacts that industrial emissions have on our children, the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions and on those who already live with the everyday pollution from traffic and other sources,” said Barbara Donachy, MPH, PSR CO Board of Directors. “This legislation is an opportunity to correct historic wrongs, to let our most vulnerable Coloradans know that we value their health more than a low price for jet fuel.”

“While the Environmental Justice Act set clear goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industry and protect disproportionately impacted communities from toxic pollutants, unfortunately the rule that was passed just skirted along the edges and didn’t fulfill the spirit of the law, “ said Heidi Leathwood, climate policy analyst with 350 Colorado. “This bill is needed to spell out even more clearly that we need our emissions reductions now, and polluters can’t just pay to pollute without achieving real results in neighborhoods.”

“Three years after the Environmental Justice Act became law, communities are still waiting for the health protections and climate action Coloradans need,” said Katie Schneer, Sr Analyst, U.S. Climate, Environmental Defense Fund. “This bill reaffirms what the EJ Act already demanded: Colorado needs to cut pollution from the industrial sector now, without loopholes that undermine the state’s climate progress.”

“Outdoor play is important for kids in every town and neighborhood across Colorado. It not only benefits their physical health but also their mental health,” said Jen Clanahan, Co-Director, Mountain Mamas. “It allows them to develop advanced motor skills, reduces stress, fosters independence and stimulates creativity. But it must be safe for kids to play outside and that starts with the air they are breathing. This bill will help clean up the air pollution from the industrial sector to protect our kids and grandkids.”

“Our duly elected officials listened to community members from sacrifice zones with the  passage of the Environmental Justice Act in 2021” said Rachael Lehman, Environmental Justice Program Coordinator, Black Parents United Foundation / Brown Parents United Foundation. “Black, brown, indigenous and poor people  have paid the price of polluters' actions for decades. Three years later our regulatory body, the Air Quality Control Commission, failed to create the compliance and accountability measures that prioritize human health. Industries are not above the law, and must contribute to the health and vitality of all Coloradoans.”


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