Colorado officials have agreed to enact more stringent regulations on ozone emissions from sectors including oil and natural gas at the instruction of Gov. Jared Polis.

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The commitment follows a review of air quality data from 2018-2020 which showed that despite a downward trend in ozone concentrations, the Denver Metropolitan/North Front Range (DMNFR) area remains a trouble spot for ground-level ozone, the main component of smog.

The area is likely to receive a status downgrade under the ground-level ozone standards outlined in the Clean Air Act (CAA), Polis said in a Dec. 15 letter to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC).

The DMNFR area currently is in serious nonattainment status for the 75 parts per billion (ppb) standard, with an attainment date scheduled by July 2021.

Based on the review, “it is apparent that the DMNFR area will not meet the standard in time for the attainment date, even excluding the days of high pollution from wildfires in Colorado in 2020,” said Polis. “As a result, state agencies and stakeholders should plan for the downgrade of the DMNFR nonattainment area to a severe status following the attainment deadline…”

Polis said Colorado will not seek a waiver for the downgrade, despite an option in the CAA to show that ozone exceedances are caused by international emissions.

Economic impacts of the downgrade will include “a requirement for federal reformulated gasoline in the nonattainment area during the summer months,” Polis said. “The state is concerned about the potential costs, as well as the limited environmental benefits of this requirement.”

As a result, Polis said he has asked the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment (DPHE), the Energy Office and the Department of Transportation “to explore other options both for more effective and cost-effective means of reducing emissions.”

In response to the directive, the AQCC on Dec. 18 approved a proposal from DPHE’s Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) to change Colorado’s Serious Ozone State Implementation Plan under the CAA along with several revisions to rules related to ozone emissions from several sources, including oil and gas.

“There are some questions still to be answered, but the data is clear,” said DPHE’s John Putnam, director of environmental programs. “We’ve done important work reducing ozone pollution in the Front Range, but we know we need to reduce emissions even more.

“We’re committed to continuing the action we need to take to bring the Front Range into attainment, including rulemakings in 2021 on oil and gas, transportation and other sources.” 

DPHE highlighted “significant steps” taken in 2019 and 2020 to curb ozone pollution. “Those included groundbreaking, first-in-the-nation rules to reduce emissions at oil and gas sites, a new zero-emission vehicle standard and volatile organic compound [VOC] limits for consumer products and architectural and industrial coatings,” DPHE said. 

The downgrade to severe nonattainment status would reduce the threshold for a major source of VOCs or oxides of nitrogen from 50 to 25 tons/year “and will require these major sources to offset any proposed increase in emissions with even more emission reductions,” DPHE said.

APCD Director Garry Kaufman, said, “We’ll continue to push forward aggressively on multiple fronts to reduce ozone pollution and improve air quality for Coloradans living and working in the nonattainment area.”

Industry Responds

In response to the amended implementation plan, American Petroleum Institute (API) Colorado Executive Director Lynn Granger thanked APCD and the Regional Air Quality Council “for their hard work and collaborative pursuit of ozone reduction policies which will benefit Colorado in a feasible, practicable manner.”

She also praised regulators for acknowledging “that many proposals…did not demonstrate the emission reductions achieved or consider the potential economic impacts to existing and new businesses in the 10-county ozone nonattainment area.”

Granger added, “The Commission’s continued efforts to attain the national ambient air quality standards are valuable, however, the fact remains that many emissions that cause exceedances of the ozone standard in Colorado originate from sources outside of the state.“Further, emissions in the state have fallen significantly in recent years, even as population, economic development and natural gas and oil production have increased…Our industry is steadfast in its commitment to continuously improve and innovate, and we always stand ready to work with the state and other parties in pursuit of policies and outcomes which advance our shared goals.”