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Polis Announces Push Back Against Looming EPA Mandates

Polis Announces Push Back Against Looming EPA Mandates

In a rare break from his usual routine, Governor Jared Polis (D.) appears to be fighting back against unwelcome and costly environmental regulations for once.

Per the Denver Gazette:

In a reversal of his approach to federal ozone determinations three years ago, Gov. Jared Polis is poised to ask the Environmental Protection Agency to not rush into imposing a more expensive blend of gasoline to help reduce ozone, calling it “problematic” and a frustrating “decades-old, one-size-fits-all” prescription to improving air quality.

If followed through with, this would indeed be a welcome development for Colorado residents and businesses.

For a little background, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to downgrade Denver and the northern Front Range from “serious” to “severe” violators of federal limits regarding air quality and ozone pollution earlier this April.

The move, if formally approved by the EPA this fall, automatically carries with it new stringent regulations, including a requirement that drivers in the Front Range fill their cars and trucks with a more expensive reformulated blend of gasoline (RFG) during summer months when ozone pollution is at its peak.

RFG is already required for sale in California, which boasts the highest gas prices in the country. Federal data from the Energy Information Administration show the fuel currently costs 50-cents more per gallon than regular fuel, but Coloradans could wind up paying even more than that under an EPA-imposed RFG mandate.

That’s because Colorado only has one refinery in the state, operated by Suncor Energy, which only produces around 30-40 percent of the state’s gasoline. The rest would have to be produced in other states unburdened by RFG mandates, where it would have to be specially-refined and transported to the state at a premium.

Additionally, the EPA downgrade would lower the threshold for businesses operating in the state to be classified as “major” air pollution sources. CPR News reports that as many as 470 businesses in the state’s construction, transportation, manufacturing, oil and gas, and agricultural sectors would be forced to obtain additional air quality permits from regulators and spend on new technology to limit emissions.

Such a move stands to cause regulatory delays and boost compliance costs that will harm businesses. Many of those costs would ultimately be passed on to consumers already reeling from 40-year high inflation and a possible recession. It could also deter future investment in the state, as rational business owners will look to operate in locations with less onerous standards.

Adding to the sting for Colorado residents, the downgrade and incoming regulatory onslaught are occurring despite Colorado’s best efforts.

The Regional Air Quality Council’s own data shows that Colorado’s emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds—the precursors to atmospheric ozone—were slashed by 49 percent and 44 percent respectively over the last decade. Likewise, the Colorado General Assembly has passed at least 45 statutes and spurred numerous regulations addressing energy, the environment, and air quality since the last time the state was downgraded for air quality violations in 2019.

Yet despite this progress, federal emissions limits continue to get more restrictive, and polluted air beyond our control continues to flow into the state. A 2021 analysis of ozone emissions conducted by the RAQC found that less than 30 percent of the state’s ozone emissions can be attributed to in-state human activity. Meanwhile, 10 percent of ozone emissions were found to be naturally occurring, while 61 percent of emissions were found to have derived from either interstate transport or out of state human-activity wafting into the Denver metro area.

It’s a problem the northern Front Range has been dealing with for years, and one unlikely to radically change anytime soon. The same dynamics were at play the last time the EPA dinged Colorado’s air-quality rating, though our Governor was less amenable to sticking up for Coloradans at the time.

Back to The Denver Gazette:

Back in 2018, EPA determined that the Denver metro area and northern Front Range failed to meet air quality standards and prepared to downgrade the region’s status to “serious” non-attainment.


Then-governor and now U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper asked the federal agency for an extension of time for the state to meet the standards.


The election that year ushered in a new administration, and about two months after assuming office, Polis withdrew Colorado’s extension request.


“We believe that the interests of our citizens are best served by moving aggressively forward and without delay in our efforts to reduce ground level ozone concentrations in the Denver Metro/North Front Range non-attainment area,” Polis said in his March 19, 2019, letter to the EPA.


The big difference between 2019 and 2022 is the hefty gasoline price tag that would come with the latest downgrade

Funny how an election year can change one’s priorities. After all, it’s hard to tout yourself as the “affordability Governor” if you willfully allow the regulatory sword of Damocles to fall on the heads of everyday drivers and business owners.

Questions of motive aside, the Governor should follow through with his announcement. He has until September 15th to file a waiver with the EPA to help buy the state some much needed time to continue improving our air quality without costly federal interference.

Clean air is indeed a worthy goal, one that all Coloradans have a vested interest in pursuing. But the state and its residents are only capable of improving what they have direct control over. Punishing Colorado drivers and businesses for failing to prevent other states—and even other countries—from emitting pollutants that find their way to the Front Range is outrageous.

Jake Fogleman