With Colorado’s Front Range facing record levels of ozone pollution this summer, and the summer likely to go further, Gov. Jared Polis is looking to spend nearly half a billion dollars cleaning up the state’s air.
That means investing in electric school buses, offering free or subsidized public transportation during ozone pollution seasons, and grants to curb industrial pollution and encourage high-density and eco-friendly development.
Police’s state budget proposal also seeks to increase capacity for the state’s crisis-ridden Air Pollution Control Division to hire dozens of people and hand out more air quality permits to polluters. But without a culture shift in the divide, the move could ruin millions, say environmental experts.
“It could work but it could also be a waste of $52 million,” said Robert Uckley, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
In total, Polis proposed spending more than $424 million from the state’s general fund to clean up Colorado’s air as part of its record-high $40 billion budget proposal for next year.
The increasing number and intensity of Colorado’s hottest days, wildfires and deteriorating ozone underscore the urgency of such investments, Polis said in his proposal. He divided packages into three categories: transportation; monitoring, regulation and promotion; and buildings.
Transportation: $255 million
The largest part of the police’s air quality plan to date is a $150 million share for electric school buses across the state. It’s a wise move, according to Jane Clanhan, Colorado director of environmental nonprofit Mountain Mamas.
Klanahan said that in the short term, swapping diesel buses for electric buses would prevent students from breathing in exhaust fumes.
A 2004 study by the New Brunswick Lung Association indicated that students exposed to harmful particles in the air are five to six times worse off inside a bus than outside air.
“In Colorado, 300,000 kids, including my own daughter, ride about a school bus,” Klanahan said.
In the long term, the switch will cut overall transportation emissions across the state, Colorado’s largest source of air pollution and nationwide, said Colorado Department of Transportation director Shoshana Lew.
The ultimate goal is for all Colorado buses to be electric, Lew said. If approved, $150 million would be used to subsidize school districts buying electric buses to replace older diesel ones.
Colorado Energy Director Will Toor said the money could help school districts replace about 2,000 buses — nearly half of the state’s school bus fleet — in six years.
Police’s next largest transportation spending proposal will give the state agency CDOT $40 million to partner with cities and counties to expand sidewalk, bicycle and bus infrastructure along state roads passing through cities. In Denver, those roadways include Colfax Avenue, Colorado, Federal, and Sheridan Boulevard.
The idea is to “catalyze how we transit some of these roads,” Lew said. “It often made them more bus friendly. In some cases they lack pavement.”
The proposal will also tag a further $28 million for CDOT to partner with the Regional Transportation District, which will offer free or discounted public transit passes during the summer months at the height of ozone pollution season.
Those measures will hopefully make it “really easier for people to get out of their cars and buses and trains”, while cutting vehicle emissions and improving air at the front range and across the state, Lew said. .
The rest of the transportation proposal includes $15 million to retire and replace more than 500 low-emission diesel trucks, $12 million for electric bike and ride-sharing rebates, and help pay for and improve CDOT’s recently purchased Burnham. $10 million will be set aside for Yard Rail Yard.
Monitoring, Regulation and Promotion: $114.1 million
Police in its Clean Air Investment Package for the state’s Air Pollution Control Division amounted to more than $52 million to “immediate emissions reductions in specific industries, increase permitting efficiencies” and “improve monitoring of pollutants in Colorado” determined.
That money will be split between 2022 and 2023, Interim Division director Trisha Oth said, and will allow about 75 people to be hired next year and then another 138 years later, nearly doubling its size.
Oath said more employees would mean the division could handle more permit applications, better monitor pollutants and ultimately improve air quality across the state.
But Ukeiley noted that divestment hasn’t been effective in curbing pollution in recent years and that unless police and the heads of Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment commit to more rigorous monitoring and predictive modeling, investments will inevitably be made. One would be useless.
“Now with permission, polluters say, ‘I like how much I think,’ and state rubber stamps that,” Ukeli said. “The $52 million dollar question is, are they just going to rubber stamp quick or will they actually start following the law?”
According to salary information obtained through a public records request, state health officials last month removed Gary Kaufman as director of the Air Pollution Control Division and created a new position for him as deputy director for regulatory affairs, His salary was reduced from $168,048 to $151,596. Kaufman was at the center of a March whistleblower complaint filed with the help of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a Maryland-based organization.
That complaint culminated in a report from the Colorado Attorney General’s office, which indicated that Kaufman had failed to disclose a conflict of interest with the Taylor County gold mine for two and a half years.
The report also found that Kaufman ordered managers to tell employees not to review or model projected emissions at smaller facilities, which are considered “minor sources” of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, or particulates smaller than 2.5 micrometers. All of which are believed to contribute to unhealthy ozone. Kaufman’s orders meant that the Air Pollution Control Division issued a number of air quality permits to facilities that showed predictive models could violate federal pollution standards.
Without changing the culture in the division demonstrated by Kaufman, the extra money and people will do little to better manage and control pollutants, Ukeli said.
“All the laws and all the rules that they need are already in place, they just need a cultural shift so that they can be implemented to protect Coloradans on the short-term profit of some polluting industries,” he said.
State health officials announced Oath as Kaufman’s replacement about three weeks ago, and while she said more workers would help the division continue its work, she fell short of saying whether a culture change was needed. Is.
“We are always looking internally and making sure that our commitment to protecting public health and the environment is central to our work,” Oth said.
Chandra Rosenthal, director of Peer’s Rocky Mountain field office, said the division clearly needs more people. She estimated that it employs two people doing predictive modeling and about 30 permit engineers, all of whom are full of work. Oath could not immediately confirm whether the staffing estimate was correct.
“If the modeling was being done right, there’s no way they could keep up with only two air modelers,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal, however, expressed optimism that the division is moving more in the “right direction”, but acknowledged that more work needs to be done to promote accountability and transparency.
In addition to funding for the Air Pollution Control Division, Polis proposes $50 million in grants to fund industrial reforms and reduce emissions of pollutants and particulates, $50 million for aerial and ground-based monitoring around oil and gas facilities. 7 million and would separate $5 million. Helping communities dependent on coal transition away from industry.
Buildings: $55.2 million
Polis’ proposal set aside $28 million in an air quality package and another $100 million in the budget for the Strong Cities Grant, which would go toward developing existing lots and communities seeking development projects to increase density, Colorado Energy Director Will Toor said. Higher-density housing, meaning more people in less space, and closer to existing jobs, is seen as providing much needed affordable housing and reducing the need for people to drive long distances to their workplaces, Which reduces pollution.
A further $25 million will allow Toor’s office to make grants to local governments to make existing buildings more energy efficient.
“The buildings are one of the five biggest sources of greenhouse gas pollution in the state,” Toor said. “Moving towards more efficient buildings, greater use of renewable energy and high-efficiency heating are all ways we can move towards very low or even net-zero emissions from buildings.
Along those lines, $2 million will be set aside for grants for the cannabis industry for businesses to audit their energy use and make improvements that can use less water and energy. The cannabis industry offered the state an economic boon, Toor said, but indoor growth operations in particular are “energy intensive” enterprises.
“This is an opportunity to help drive it down,” he said.
While Toor, Oath, Ukeli and Rosenthal all see the governor’s air quality investment package as needed now, neither he nor his remaining $40 billion budget is final. They face weeks or months of markup – debate, revision and change – from the General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee before the legislature votes to adopt the budget in the spring.