Reflecting on recent accomplishments protecting Colorado’s air quality ahead of Earth Day 2024

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Michael Ogletree, Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division

April 16, 2024

As Earth Day approaches, I’ve been reflecting on Colorado’s beautiful natural environment and the importance of preserving and protecting it. This includes clean air, which Coloradans rely on to work and play. Last November marked my two year anniversary leading the state health department’s Air Pollution Control Division. During my time here, I have seen firsthand how Coloradans – from technical experts to local communities to industry – are working together to clean our air. We’ve tackled air pollution heavy-hitters, leveled-up our tech and data tools, and modernized how we work.

I believe 2023 was one of the busiest and most impactful years the division has ever seen. And even more clean air protections are just on the horizon.

Here are key ways Colorado has taken action in the past year to advance clean air:    

Ramping up clean transportation.

Low- and zero-emissions vehicles help clean our air, save vehicle owners money, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. They also help protect communities near roadways from breathing harmful air pollution emitted by gas- and diesel-powered vehicles. Colorado is leading the way. We’re fifth in the country for electric vehicle sales.

In 2023, we accelerated our work to give Coloradans more clean transportation options. In April, Colorado adopted new rules that promote access to zero-emissions trucks. In October, Colorado adopted an extension to the existing Colorado Clean Cars standard. It calls for vehicle makers to sell 82% electric vehicles by model year 2032. Our economic analysis indicates this will save Coloradans $35 billion through 2040. That’s a return on investment of $6.50 for every $1 spent.

Accelerating pollution reduction from oil and gas operations.

Oil and gas operations emit air pollutants like nitrogen oxides that contribute to ground-level ozone pollution. In 2023, we accelerated Colorado’s work reducing this harmful pollutant for years to come.

In March 2023, Governor Polis announced a bold, unprecedented new goal to reduce summer nitrogen oxides pollution from the oil and gas sector by at least 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030 in the Denver Metro area. The air division is working closely with the Colorado Energy and Carbon Management Commission to achieve these milestones and ensure oil and gas producers achieve them.

In December 2023, Colorado adopted a new rule to reduce air pollution from stationary engines, including those used in oil and gas operations. More measures adopted in December will further reduce air pollution where ozone pollution levels are highest. These measures will help Colorado achieve its State Implementation Plan to meet federal air quality standards.  

Enhancing protections for communities overburdened by pollution.

Certain Colorado communities – in particular low-income and communities of color – have borne the brunt of air pollution and associated health risks. We’re working to prevent further environmental injustices and address inequities. In May 2023, Colorado adopted new measures to make our air permitting process more protective for communities overburdened by pollution. This made us the second state in the nation to consider environmental justice impacts before issuing air permits. It is one of many ways we’re exceeding the goals in Colorado’s historic Environmental Justice Act.

Increasing transparency and accessibility.

Coloradans want more and better access to air quality information. We’re listening. A year ago, we launched an interactive air quality records map. This online map makes it easier to view public records for stationary air pollution sources across Colorado like factories. In December 2023,  we launched an online tool to help users visualize data from stationary sources of air pollution in Colorado.

We’ll continue advancing the air division’s multi-year data modernization work this year to replace older systems and develop new technology solutions.

We’re just getting started – there’s more work to do and we’re up to the task.

Ongoing public participation opportunities ensure we receive community input year-round. This feedback strengthened air protections and will shape future air protections. We have lots more planned, including advancing public protections from air toxics, enhanced local air monitoring, modernizing our data systems, and furthering climate goals.

The Governor’s 2024 proposed budget includes unprecedented investments to continue our work to improve air quality and advance environmental justice. We look forward to continuing to work together to protect our health and our air for generations to come.