Ean Thomas Tafoya, Madhvi Chittoor, Renee Millard Chacon and Sabrina Pacha
Our communities have suffered for far too long because of Colorado’s failure to act on ozone pollution. Ozone is a major reason for the “brown cloud” that has hovered over Denver and the northern Front Range for generations. It can cause severe health impacts, including premature death, increased asthma attacks, shortness of breath and pain when breathing deeply, airway inflammation and damage, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for our state’s residents.
The burden of this air pollution and its health impacts does not affect all residents equally. Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality, leading to increased health risks, higher health care costs, and missed school days for children. Ozone pollution adds to the cumulative environmental burden that these communities have faced for years.
Climate change will only make ozone worse in Colorado, making it all the more important to get this problem under control now. Hotter temperatures and sunnier conditions will lead to more ozone.
Colorado has seen an increase in ozone pollution over the last two years. Data shows that the state has exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency standards yet again this year. The EPA recently downgraded the Denver and northern Front Range area as a severe violator of federal air quality standards, but state regulators have once again put forward a plan that doesn’t get the state to where it needs to be on ozone pollution. They are now asking the Air Quality Control Commissioners and state legislators to approve an inadequate plan that fails to provide needed protections for Colorado’s most impacted communities. The state’s draft plan is insufficient and fails to meet federal standards for ozone, in violation of the Clean Air Act.
It does not have to be this way for Colorado’s most vulnerable residents — there are meaningful steps the state can take immediately to get ozone pollution under control. We should be doing more to reduce air pollution, not less.
First and foremost, the state needs to conduct an equity analysis with cultural and trauma sensitivity for disproportionately impacted communities to guide its actions on ozone reduction — recognizing the cumulative impacts on some populations. The equity analysis should also look at the impacts of ozone pollution on sensitive groups, like children, the elderly, and people with existing health conditions that are worsened by air pollution.
Colorado’s efforts to tackle ozone pollution should start with the oil and gas and transportation sectors. These industries are two of the biggest for ozone pollution in the Denver-Front Range area. The state must move toward electrification for both sectors. Oil and gas machines should be electrified or face pollution limits wherever that is not possible. The state must also do more to electrify cars and trucks and provide support for individuals, families, and businesses to buy these new vehicles. Businesses that own trucks should be required to electrify their vehicles with education on the resources available and technical assistance to accomplish it as quickly as possible.
Colorado could also benefit from rules that reduce emissions from trucks that travel to and from high traffic areas, like those around warehouses. The state should also place limits on air pollution from oil and gas drilling or avoid these activities altogether on high ozone days or during the summer. Colorado has now admitted that emissions from these types of drilling activities are twice as high as they originally thought, yet it is still asking the commission to approve its state implementation plan. This admission is all the more reason for the state to take stronger action.
Our state officials cannot simply point fingers at our changing climate or mountain environment to claim there is nothing we can do to address ozone pollution, because that is just not true.
Each of these options would also help the state to meet its greenhouse gas targets. Beyond ozone, the oil and gas and transportation sectors are two of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado. The state has set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 but is way behind in achieving it. Reducing ozone pollution, particularly from the oil and gas and transportation sectors, will have important climate benefits as well.
Our state officials cannot simply point fingers at our changing climate or mountain environment to claim there is nothing we can do to address ozone pollution, because that is just not true. All the solutions noted above are available to state regulators right now, along with many others that would address air pollution in Colorado. All that is required is a desire to act.
It is time for Colorado to take meaningful steps to address this issue, particularly for the disproportionately impacted communities that continue to face the worst health impacts.
Ean Thomas Tafoya is the Colorado state director and co-chair of the CO Environmental Justice Action Task Force for GreenLatinos. He is a candidate for Denver mayor. Madhvi Chittoor is a climate warrior and founder of Madhvi4EcoEthics. Renee M. Chacon is the co-founder and executive director of Womxn from the Mountain. Sabrina Pacha is the senior director of Healthy Air & Water Colorado. This article is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license.
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