A quartet of Democrats made their opening pitch Monday for health-based air standards, backed up by a fleet of environmental groups.
House Bill 1265 passed the House Energy and Environment Committee on a 7-4 party-line vote and is moving to the Finance Committee. The bill comes with a $4.2 million price tag.
The legislation would regulate emissions of four toxins: hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen sulfide, benzene in a manner more strict than the federal Clean Air Act.
Those who operate facilities that emit those chemicals would have to monitor and report their emissions, plus ensure real-time warnings to nearby residents when levels are too high.
If the bill becomes law in the Democratic-controlled statehouse, the state Air Quality Control Commission would review the latest data and adjust the rules and emission levels at least every five years starting in 2026.
The goal is to analyze "chemical cocktails" and cumulative efforts related to industrial sites, measuring the emissions and attempting to ascertain community impacts in a tighter window of time.
Rep. Alex Valdez, D-Denver, told the committee that the bill is especially aimed at protecting low-income communities, which most often are the neighbors to industrial facilities that belch out chemicals.
"We don't find these kinds of plants in areas that are wealthy," he said.
Supporters of the bill cited coal plants, refineries, facilities that produce rubber products and other manufacturers.
"This is about human beings having the right to breathe air that is clear," Valdez said.
Lucy Molina told the committee she's an "impacted mother" from Commerce City, which she called "the state's landfill."
She called the $9 million settlement agreed to by the Suncor Energy refinery in Commerce City on Friday at Band-Aid.
"It's a start, however, this won't bring back my grandma who passed away from leukemia a couple of years ago, or (fix) the bloody noses, the migraines, the vertigo and the cancer," Molina said.
Rep. Lori Saine, a Republican from Dacono, asked the state health department if the levels identified as excessive in the bill had been tested and determined to be dangerous to those living nearby. That would take years of data to connect to chronic health problems, she was told by Garry Kaufman, director of the state Air Pollution Control Division.
"I'm dumbfounded by what I just heard right now," she replied. "We're going to make this up as we go along, and this is not a study? ... I don't even know what to say at this point."
In addition to Valdez, the bill also is sponsored by Rep. Adrienne Benavidez of Commerce City, with Sens. Julie Gonzales of Denver and Dominick Moreno of Commerce City.
Benavidez said the federal government hasn't set safe limits for those chemicals, so it's vital for Colorado to make those measurements.
"Will this maybe have an economic impact? Maybe," she said.
"... If they closed would it help the health of the people in my community? Yes. But this bill does not close anything. It doesn't lose jobs. It says we need real data out there to set real impact levels. It doesn't set any levels. It doesn't set any standards."
Opponents included chambers of commerce, mining and the oil and gas industry.
Dianna Orf of the Colorado Mining Association pointed out that most of the chemicals on the list are already regulated by the state health department, and the bill's language is overly broad that could give the department the ability to add facilities in the future on its own.
The bill calls for "extreme actions" if standards are violated, without specifying what those standards are.
"We certainly think there should be some standards set forth in the bill," Orf said.
Scott Prestige said driving out businesses such as the Suncor refinery hurts only the supply of cars in the state, but also asphalt that roadbuilding depends on, while creates unnecessary, duplicative programs.
"The bill is too broad and, quite simply, would create expensive and uncertain regulatory processes," he said. "It seems to dismiss the 190 hazardous air pollutants that CDPHE already has authority to cover, as delegated by the federal Clean Air Act."
Bill Skewes of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce said its members are concerned about giving regulators broad authority, while lacking the resources to independently verify causes before enacting more stringent protections.
Environmentalists rallied behind the bill at the statehouse Monday.
Conservation Colorado, the state's largest environmental organization, provided remarks to the press from allies supporting the bill.
Sophia Mayott-Guerrero, communities and justice advocate for Conservation Colorado:
“Breathable air should be a fundamental human right, but not all Coloradans have equal access to this resource. By creating a pathway for Colorado to rein in our state’s worst polluters, this bill helps clean up our air and support the communities who need it most.”
Ean Thomas Tafoya, co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum:
“CLF is grateful for the hard work by all involved in the coalition. This common-sense bill will improve the lives of workers, residents, and first responders. It sends a message to those most at-risk - We Hear You and We Stand With You.”
Laura Fronckiewicz, Mothers Out Front:
“Mothers across the state are woefully aware of the harm inflicted on all of our children by Colorado’s inadequate protections against air toxins. We ask for urgent action through passage of HB20-1265 to protect our children, especially those in communities most at risk.”
Barabara Donachy, Physicians for Social Responsibility Colorado:
“As health professionals we have grave concerns about the exposures to the toxics included in this legislation. Also, given the uncertainty around EPA rollbacks of regulations, variations in toxic emission guidance between both national and international agencies, and as scientific research reveals sensitivities at lower levels, we support adopting these state standards.”
Sunni Benoit, president of the board of 350 Colorado:
“HB20-1265 is an important and necessary step toward regulating several highly toxic chemicals based upon the best available science to protect both the workers in the industry and the communities that are affected.”
Laurie Anderson, Colorado Moms Clean Air Force:
"We must reduce the levels of toxic pollution being emitted by refineries, factories, coal plants and other industrial activities in order to protect our children from these harmful air pollutants. This starts with monitoring and data collection, setting limits based on the best available science, and being transparent and accountable to the community."
Emily Gedeon, acting chapter director of Colorado Sierra Club:
“Every community has the right to clean air and fair warning when industrial facilities nearby are emitting dangerous levels of air toxins. House Bill 1265 because it will give the state of Colorado tools to collect better data to set health-based standards that protect communities from air toxic pollution. Thank you to Representative Adrienne Benavidez, Representative Alex Valdez, Senator Julie Gonzales and Senator Dominic Moreno for prioritizing environmental justice and better protections for all Coloradans.”
Becca Curry, Colorado policy advocate for Earthjustice:
“This bill would be a critical step in addressing dangerous toxic pollution that threatens people’s health every day across Colorado—particularly families, elders and children who live in communities of color or that are low-income, and who simply due to their closeness to emissions sources have been disproportionately exposed to chemicals that cause a wide range of harmful impacts.”
Maria Nájera, government affairs director for Western Resource Advocates:
“Factories and large industrial facilities located near where people live may emit chemicals that we know threaten public health. The legislature must take steps to require better monitoring of air toxics, implement health-based standards and limit Coloradans exposure to these pollutants. This bill is key to empower Colorado communities to protect the air they breathe and give them the information they need to avoid the worst health impacts of poor air quality.”
Rebecca Hanes, climate justice leader for the Colorado People’s Alliance:
“Through my work with COPA in Commerce City and surrounding areas, it's shown us how important clean air is to our communities. This bill is an essential first step towards ensuring a clean environment for all Coloradans.”