DENVER — Governor John Hickenlooper is seeking to reassure environmentalists, medical groups, small businesses and residents disappointed and angered by what they call weak draft regulations written by the governor’s Air Quality Commission and meant to address the state’s spiking ozone levels.
“These rules are still pending,” said Hickenlooper’s communications director Eric Brown. “The Governor has encouraged a robust stakeholder outreach process and a strong science-based approach in developing new rules… The administration’s goal is for Colorado to have regulations that are a national model in protecting public health and the environment.”
The governor’s assurances mostly elicited skepticism. Many of the disappointed stakeholders fear the best chance to strengthen the rules has already passed.
Frank Swain, energy advocate at Conservation Colorado, said that the draft versions of the rules needed to be strong.
“These rules will be the foundation for the final rules,” he said. “Of course the commission has the jurisdiction to strengthen them significantly.”
Swain expressed a common opinion that, once the rules had been written, even as drafts, they would be difficult to significantly alter.
“We are glad to hear that the governor is supporting rules that will be a national model and look forward to strengthening them to get to that goal,” responded Weld Air and Water co-founder Wendy Highby of Greeley, the city at the heart of the state’s gas-drilling boom. Greeley is surrounded by tens of thousands of wells. It is known as “the donut hole” among oil and gas watchers, because drilling has mostly stopped at city limits. But the donut hole is closing. Plans are in the works now to drill new wells from multi-well platforms in the city center, just feet from schools, parks and homes.
“I am furious that the rules seem to be getting weaker rather than stronger,” said Erie, Colorado, mother of two Andrea Roy in a release from Colorado Moms Know Best. The group implored Hickenlooper to exert pressure on the commission.
Colorado’s brewers also weighed in, asking Hickenlooper, who made his fortune as a pioneering Denver brew pub owner, to think of the damage polluted skies could do to the state’s world-recognized clean outdoorsy brand.
Automobile and power plant emissions have been heavily regulated for decades, as the danger of ground-level ozone have become known. But the threat posed by fugitive emissions from oil and gas drilling has only recently become plain and there are relatively few regulations on the industry.
Some are accusing Hickenlooper of going back on his stated zero-tolerance policy for drilling emissions, including methane. They call the promise empty rhetoric.
“The energy boom has been good for Colorado’s economy,” said Brown. “We want to make sure our air regulations are good for the environment.”[Photo by Nomadic Lass/em>]