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Environmental groups sue EPA to spur action on Colorado’s plan to tackle oil, gas emissions

Two environmental groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for what they say is a failure to ensure that required plans are in place to protect Colorado’s Front Range from pollution produced by oil and gas operations.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Environmental Health filed a complaint Wednesday in federal court in Northern California that adds the metro Denver area to a lawsuit saying the EPA has missed deadlines for approving state plans targeting oil and gas emissions. The Colorado plan covers a nine-county swath in the Denver-metro area and to the north along the Front Range that has violated federal air quality standards for years.

In December, the EPA downgraded the area from being a “moderate” violator of the standards to a “serious” violator, which will require stricter controls to reduce pollution. But Robert Ukeiley, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the lawsuit addresses the plan the state submitted as a response to the less serious designation.

Ukeiley said then-Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration submitted the plan in May 2018 and the EPA’s deadline for approving or rejecting the plan was Nov. 14, 2019. He said the agency didn’t respond to his organization’s earlier notice that it intended to sue.

The regional EPA office didn’t respond to a request for a comment.

The EPA’s approval of Colorado’s plan for tackling the ozone pollution problem along the Front Range is more than a bureaucratic exercise, Ukeiley said.

“The value of the plan is to protect us from the pollution,” Ukeiley said. “If the EPA disapproves the rules, the state will have to make them better or the EPA will create its own rules.”

If the EPA approves the rules and the public doesn’t believe they’re strong enough, ” at least we can go to court and challenge that approval,” Ukeiley added.

“Delay in implementing these protections leads to more cases of asthma,” Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health, said in a statement. “It should not be this difficult to get the EPA to make sure children and families have clean air to breathe.”

Emissions from oil and gas operations as well as vehicles are major sources of ground-level ozone, which can trigger such health problems as asthma and other respiratory ailments. Children, older adults and people who exercise or work outdoors are especially at risk, according to the EPA.