The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday it had reclassified Colorado’s Front Range as a “severe” violator of federal air quality standards. The new classification comes with federal regulations that could hit Coloradans’ wallets in the coming years.
The nine-county area from the northern Front Range to Denver failed to meet federal standards that require average ozone emission levels to be less than 0.075 parts per million daily. There were six regions across the United States reclassified as severe, and Colorado had the second-highest daily average levels of ozone at 0.087 ppm, according to the EPA’s announcement.
The move, while widely anticipated by both state and Larimer County health department officials, will have major regulatory impacts on Colorado businesses and could mean consumers will pay more for gas in 2024.
Under the United States’ Clean Air Act, any non-attainment area classified as severe is required to sell federally approved cleaner fuel during the summer ozone season. In Northern Colorado, the reformulated gas could cost up to 50 cents more per gallon than the 85-octane “regular” gas sold in the state, according to county health department officials.
State officials are hoping to avoid that.
In a press release, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it is working with the EPA to “re-evaluate the requirement and is doing everything to avoid it.” EPA officials said in a letter to Gov. Jared Polis they are willing to work with the state on other ways to reduce emissions.
Colorado can reach attainment by 2026 without having to use reformulated gas by focusing on several key areas of emissions, state health officials said in a press release.
Larimer County Public Health Director Tom Gonzales explained to the Coloradoan how Larimer County’s efforts fit in with Colorado’s Regional Air Quality Council and the Air Pollution Control Division’s State Implementation Plan.
“We’re going to have to work together to get into attainment,” Gonzales said. “The state has a great approach, but as consumers and residents, we have a piece in that.”
Here’s a look at the state’s key areas of focus:
Make emissions requirements stricter, improve electric vehicle infrastructure
The state would implement stricter emissions requirements for new cars that use gas and would increase infrastructure and incentives for hybrid and electric vehicles.
In Larimer County, health department officials proposed funding for four new electric vehicle charging stations in unincorporated parts of the county, Gonzales said.
“Building that infrastructure opens the door to make a significant impact on air pollution,” Gonzales said.
Larimer County has roughly 4,000 electric vehicles on the road and 274 charging stations, a majority of which are in Fort Collins, according to information provided by the Colorado Energy Office.
Put stiffer regulations on Colorado oil and gas producers
Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division identified 600 oil and gas facilities and 100 other industrial sites where it will be able to issue stricter permits, which will allow the state to implement stronger enforcement actions.
Gonzales said he’s not sure where facilities in Larimer County like the Prospect Energy Meyer tank battery site sit on the state’s list of priorities, but the county is working to increase its ability to investigate oil and gas facilities throughout the county.
In July, the Larimer County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of a specialized infrared camera that can detect harmful gas leaks, which will greatly improve the county’s ability to regulate facilities and ensure compliance. Gonzales said the county will have the camera by the end of the year.
County commissioners also signaled plans to take stronger action against existing oil and gas facilities throughout the county. No official steps have been announced, though the board held an executive session in August with county attorney Bill Ressue to discuss the scope of the county’s regulatory authority when it comes to new and existing oil and gas facilities.
Commissioner John Kefalas said the board looked at ways to “take action in a more decisive way,” in his statement after the meeting.
Just last month, state officials shut down another one of Prospect Energy’s sites, the Krause facility north of Fort Collins, after repeatedly failing to fix gas leaks.
Regulate consumer products that contribute to ozone pollution
The state’s third area of focus, according to Gonzales, deals with consumer products that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute heavily to ground-level ozone. Some examples Gonzales gave are brake fluid, cosmetics and gas-powered equipment like lawnmowers.
This is a major area of focus for the county health department, Gonzales said.
Fort Collins and Larimer County are incentivizing residents to turn in their gas-powered lawnmowers and other equipment through the Regional Air Quality Council’s Mow Down Pollution program, which gives qualifying residents a $150 voucher to put toward purchasing an electric lawn mower. Larimer County commissioners agreed to fund an additional 250 vouchers for Larimer County residents.
Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission will vote by the end of December on whether to adopt the state’s implementation plan before passing it on the state legislature.