Commuting Solutions Convened Colorado’s Northwest Metro Business Community in Critical Dialogue to “Clear the Air”
The 6th Sustainable Transportation Summit moved our mission forward! While Commuting Solutions has always been about advocating for sustainable transportation, we also strive to build partnerships and organize educational events where people can gather and encourage innovative thinking and conversation around the latest news and ideas. The 6th Sustainable Transportation Summit, Clear the Air, was a hopeful space devoted to education and improvement.
In the keynote speech, Kathleen (KC) Becker, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator for the Mountains Plains Region 8, outlined why new regulations and standards are currently under consideration for Colorado by the EPA.
The Front Range’s Air Quality Prompts Government Action
“You’ve been hearing a lot about this in the press recently,” said Becker at the beginning of her talk. “Because we recently proposed changing the Front Range area from serious nonattainment (for ozone) to severe nonattainment. So, Colorado keeps creeping up in nonattainment for ozone.”
Nonattainment status is when a known source of pollution does not meet the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
Becker went on to explain that once a state, Colorado in this case, is in nonattainment, local governments and the state have the burden of shepherding air quality [TL1] back to compliance with the NAAQS. She noted that other regions with excessive pollution in Utah, Wyoming and Montana have all worked their way out of the EPA’s nonattainment rating, implying Colorado can also do the hard work to get back in compliance with federal standards.
Northwest Colorado Topography Impacts Air Quality
However, pollution becomes a unique problem for the Front Range to curtail because of its unique geography and topography. The mountain ranges create a bowl effect in lower lying Denver for example, inviting pollutants to linger longer in the air we breathe.
And then there are wildfires. Trapped in the “basement” that’s Northwest Colorado are excessive ozone emissions from various sources, plus the smoke and ash fallout from the recent Marshall Fire.
“It is affecting us from a public health standpoint,” Becker said about the attention on wildfires. “But it is not what drives us into severe nonattainment, because those days are typically considered ‘exceptional events’ and are excluded from the data of whether the EPA is going to rate the region as in attainment or not.”
Becker noted that while gauging ozone levels is now vital for setting regulations and policy by the EPA, it didn’t become a big air quality area of study until the late 1990s. Before, the emphasis was on carbon monoxide and particulate matter as the Front Range’s primary air pollutants.
Reducing methane caused by crude oil and natural gas production (methane being a top contributor to global warming just behind #1 carbon dioxide) is also a priority for this EPA, noted Becker. As is “applying an environmental justice lens to everything we do.”
Prior to joining the EPA, Becker sponsored important climate change legislation during her four terms in the Colorado legislature. This included successful legislation requiring Colorado to meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals and comprehensive reform of Colorado’s regulation of the oil and gas industry.
Moving Forward With Action
Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the fragile state of our air quality, Clear the Air generated a sense of energy and possibility around actions that can be taken by anyone to improve Front Range air.
As Audrey DeBarros, Commuting Solutions Executive Director, noted during her closing remarks, “Our aim today was to provide everyone attending this Summit with the information they need to make informed and research-based decisions on behalf of the communities they serve. I encourage each of you to take an action.”
What actions can you take? Commuting Solutions is excited to partner with RTD in an effort to bring free transit fares to Coloradans throughout the month of August. Encourage friends, family, coworkers and neighbors to participate in the Zero Fare for Better Air—a collaborative, statewide initiative designed to reduce ground-level ozone by promoting use of public transit during the thick of Colorado’s smog season when ground-level Ozone is at its peak.
We look forward to seeing you at the next Sustainable Transportation Summit in 2023! For timely information throughout the year and next about news and future events, and the networking and educational opportunities provided by Commuting Solutions, sign up for our monthly newsletter via the form below.