State board airs issues at West Slope meeting

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission met in Grand Junction for a retreat to review activities as well as discuss potential new rules and issues related to oil and natural gas development.

The nine-member commission, a part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Safety, develops air pollution control policies, regulates pollution sources and conducts hearings involving violations of state air pollution laws.

Teresa Coons, executive director of the John McConnell Math & Science Center and a former member of the Grand Junction City Council, is the lone Western Slope member of the commissioner. Her term expires in January.

At the two-day event in Grand Junction, members of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission discussed some of the efforts in maintaining and improving air quality standards across the state, including greenhouse gas and regional haze reduction strategies.

A reduction in the use of coal in electric power plants has helped. Some plants, such as the Cameo plant east of Grand Junction were closed. Other plants switched to burning natural gas.

A number of ideas were discussed in Grand Junction to further reduce greenhouse gases, including potential efforts to regulate methane and possibly a study to quantify methane leaks at natural gas wellheads.

The commission discussed yet another goal in reducing vehicle emissions. The use of federal funding to refit diesel vehicles and buses in Grand Junction, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties and the Four Corners region was discussed, along with the possibility of adopting state vehicle emissions standards similar to those employed in California.

Still other conversations focused on the consideration by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of more stringent ozone standards and whether or how Colorado should follow suit.

The commission also heard from industry and government officials, including a plea to take into account regional differences in Colorado when considering regulations.

“You cannot treat Northwest Colorado the same as downtown Denver,” said David Ludlum, executive director of the West Slope Oil and Gas Association. “Rarely does a one-size-fits-all approach generate outcomes that work out well for anybody.”

“The air quality commission needs to take into account the differing circumstances and environments between regions like ours and the urban Front Range communities in order to create a win-win that addresses air quality concerns while also allowing oil and gas development to continue and contribute to our local and state economies,” Ludlum added.

Ludlum said local businesses would also benefit from a more regionally focused rulemaking process: “Taking a slow and cautious regional approach to air quality regulation will help business by attaching a greater measure of certainty to the process.”