Delivered on November 19, 2021
Dear Governor Jared Polis,
We, the undersigned organizations and state leaders, are writing to call for action to address widespread public concern that in the two years since you signed SB 19-181 and HB 19-1261 into law, the situation with regards to oil and gas pollution and the impacts on Colorado communities and the climate crisis has failed to improve as needed. Our regulating bodies have not implemented the changes necessary to protect public health, safety, the environment and wildlife from the dangers of oil and gas development as the legislature intended and the public expected. The pollution resulting from this failure of implementation is significantly contributing to our severe F-grade air quality issues and the climate crisis.
We call upon your commitment to climate action. In a recent interview, you said that your administration has essentially declared a climate emergency, and we acknowledge with appreciation all of the groundbreaking bills you have signed into law. We are writing because recent developments detailed below demonstrate the need for even stronger oversight over agencies, and direct executive action.
Oil and gas production is one of the major contributors to ozone pollution. In August 2021 Denver experienced the worst air quality in the world, putting children and vulnerable populations at risk. We are profoundly disappointed by the recent COGCC action that demonstrates a lack of change: the Commission unanimously approved new Oil and Gas Development Plan applications on September 1, 2021 that were not in line with the SB19 -181 mandate to protect public health, safety, welfare and the environment. The adjudication process did not provide due process to all stakeholders. The applications demonstrated disregard for wildlife and biological resources, as evidenced by the fact that noise and light pollution effect on wildlife was completely ignored. There was also little consideration of the potential financial risk and liability to taxpayers: financial analyses of the applicants did not appear in any of the docket materials. This is especially an issue since the rate of oil and gas bankruptcies is increasing and the Financial Assurance rules have not yet been updated as required by law.
This is but one example of an ongoing pattern. Elected officials have passed laws such as SB19-181, HB19-1261 and HB21-1266, which are intended to protect the public, reduce pollution in ozone non-attainment areas, and protect disproportionately impacted communities from the adverse impacts of oil and gas development, but both the COGCC and the CDPHE are ineffective in putting the laws into action: they are failing to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and associated pollution that are exacerbating our air quality and climate crisis. Despite the statutory mandate, the historical status quo of giving the wishes of industry more weight than environmental experts and disproportionately impacted communities has continued. Of note in the APCD are the whistleblower allegations of industry influence upon permits, since confirmed by multiple additional staff members as reported in Colorado Newsline, and in the COGCC the failure of COGCC to bring in external environmental or public health presentations into their hearings, instead hearing only from staff and industry.
Even health considerations that have been addressed in the new rules are in jeopardy. In response to SB-181, COGCC created an important rule for 2000-foot setbacks, but the rule allows for six separate opportunities for variances. Several permits are being considered now with variances less than 2,000 for occupied residences, a fact that is of great concern for public health. We request that you require the COGCC not to approve variances for such an important health matter, as peer reviewed studies show acute exposure risks still exist at 2000 feet.
Furthermore, COGCC does not appear to be evaluating and addressing the potential cumulative impacts of oil and gas development in consultation with CDPHE as required by law in C.R.S. § 34-60-106(11)(c)(II). If they are indeed consulting with CDPHE about this, they should provide a report to your office and the legislature that is publicly available. As far as the public record shows, the COGCC had one joint meeting with the AQCC of the CDPHE on March 18, 2021, in which Commissioners from both agencies made it clear their work was just barely beginning, and they did not yet know how they were going to collaborate. We are put in danger by the bystander effect, in which everyone stands by waiting for and assuming someone else will take action. Neither agency is leading on this, and drilling and air pollution permits continue to be granted in disproportionately impacted communities and ozone nonattainment areas. This persists in the face of reports detailing that fossil fuel air pollution is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide, and that new oil and gas production must stop for the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and avoid a catastrophic future.
In addressing cumulative impacts in disproportionately impacted (DI) communities and ozone nonattainment areas, the AQCC is focussing rulemaking on requiring permits at lower thresholds of pollution and requiring more frequent inspections. This may encourage better oversight and better compliance with the rules, but it does not change the fact that there are too many facilities in these areas–whether or not they are in compliance individually–and the problem will continue unless we not only stop approving new facilities, but also actually start reducing them. State regulators need to stop permitting immediately until reports to your office can be produced by both the COGCC and the CDPHE, detailing their collaboration, and the meaningful steps they are taking to reduce cumulative impacts of pollution in DI communities and ozone nonattainment areas. We cannot improve air quality in those areas by increasing operations, and COGCC and CDPHE are required by law to work on cumulative emissions together.
Climate change is a cumulative impact that has not been addressed at all in the COGCC hearings, except in 2-minute long impassioned public comment. We have seen no presentations about climate change, the impacts it is already having on our state, and the enormous impact of emissions from oil and gas production. We have seen no action in the COGCC on addressing the climate crisis and little lip service. As detailed in the most recent IPCC report, burning fossil fuels is the cause of climate change, the greatest threat to public health that humans have ever faced. When exported oil and gas life-cycle emissions are included, the oil and gas sector is responsible for approximately 70% of Colorado’s GHG emissions. (In fact, exported oil and gas life-cycle emissions are 120% of Colorado’s GHG emissions from all sectors combined.) New drilling should stop immediately, following the IEA recommendation cited above, and all fossil fuel production should be phased out by 2030.
Additionally, we recognize the need to reduce emissions in all sectors of the economy in order to meet our climate responsibilities. The targets for clean electricity generation are not stringent enough to meet our 2025 and 2030 goals. Our regulating bodies must also ensure a rapid transition to clean renewable electricity generation to power transport, building heating and industry to meet the climate goals per HB 19-1261.
The future of our children depends on us, and they know it. A new international study shows that even stronger than young people’s anxiety about climate change is their anxiety about government inaction.Climate change is a true emergency, the biggest emergency in human history, and it requires an immediate, strong and bold response.
We respectfully call upon you as Governor to take the following actions to provide relief and protect Coloradans:
- Issue an executive order declaring a climate emergency, which will require a moratorium on the issuance of all new oil and gas permits and applications for transfer of ownership, and place a hold on current applications for oil and gas permits and current applications for transfer of ownership, pending further public health, safety, welfare, environment, and wildlife resources review, which must include a cumulative impacts analysis for each application.
- Issue an executive order requiring the COGCC and CDPHE to develop a policy approach for phasing out oil and gas production in Colorado by 2030.
- Issue an executive order pausing any application for variances/waivers for the 2000-foot setback adopted by the COGCC during the Mission Change Rulemaking in November 2020.
- Issue an executive order requiring electric sector GHG emissions reductions of 80% by 2025 compared to 2005, closure of all coal-fired electric generation plants by 2025, and
electric sector GHG emissions reduction of 98% by 2030 compared to 2005, to be accomplished in a manner that will promote equity, competition, and the electrification of transport, building heating, and industry.
- Issue an executive order requiring CDPHE and COGCC to issue a joint report on their plan to address cumulative emissions, as required by SB19-181. Their plan should be submitted by December 31, and should include specific actions by each agency to
- deny permits for new operations in DI communities and ozone nonattainment areas,
- monitor GHG emissions and toxic pollution at all polluting sites as well as by periodic aerial flyovers and/or satellites and making this information available online in real time to the public,
- adopt state standards for dangerous pollution such as benzene and developing effective and immediate public warning systems and a shut down of operations when monitoring shows that these standards are being exceeded,
- require operators to submit environmental impact statements that include the social cost of carbon, including emissions during production and end-use burning of these fossil fuels, and
- Require all regulatory bodies to prioritize public health, safety and the environment by rejecting any and all permit applications that do not align with our state’s climate and clean air goals or efforts to bring our air quality into compliance.
We would appreciate a timely response to this letter regarding your intentions to address these concerns.
Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability Now
Be The Change
Broomfield Concerned: A Coalition of Neighbors
Broomfield Health and Safety First
Center for Biological Diversity
Clean Energy Action
Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate
Denver Metro Climate Reality
Indivisible Colorado Environment
Indivisible Front Range Resistance
Mothers Out Front
Northern Colorado Community Rights Network
Our Revolution Metro Denver
Rapid Shift Network
Together Against Neighborhood Drilling
Wall of Women
Weld Air and Water
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/news/fossil-fuel-air-pollution-responsible-for-1-in-5-deaths-worldwide/ and https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0013935121000487