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Julie Pignataro

My community of Fort Collins, like so many along the Front Range, is grappling with serious air pollution challenges. I have the good fortune to live in a city where the community and my City Council colleagues share a commitment to taking this challenge seriously.

We have made extensive investments in transit, created an expansive low-stress bike network, and prioritized walkability. We are also focusing on compact communities and housing affordability to make it easier for everyone to drive less. This past month, City Council adopted regulations to restrict oil and gas development in our community through land use regulations. We have also partnered regionally to improve air quality  including work with Larimer County to enhance compliance for existing oil and gas wells, partnering with the North Front Range Metropolitan Area to prioritize regional investments in multi-modal infrastructure, or through the Regional Air Quality Council to offer rebates for community members to electrify their lawn-mowing equipment.

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Fort Collins isn’t alone in this work. Many of the other towns, cities and counties on the Front Range are also working hard to reduce air pollution. But, like many issues Fort Collins faces, such as affordable housing and ensuring a resilient future in the face of the climate emergency, air quality efforts do not begin or end at city limits. In fact, decisions made by the State of Colorado will have far more impact on our air quality here and across the Front Range than anything local governments can do.

Before the state legislature is a bill that would improve our air quality by scaling back some of the worst air pollution sources and changing the way these sources are permitted in Colorado. The bill, known as the Pollution Protection Measures, or HB23-1294, would end loopholes in the current system that approve many oil and gas drilling operations without ever evaluating the likely impacts of those new operations. In fact, in the current system, permits are often issued without even assessing whether the new, additional pollution would cause Colorado to violate federal clean-air standards even worse than we already are.

We know when diverse experts come together, better and more creative solutions result, and one provision would require government agencies and stakeholders to work together more. For instance, under the current system, Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission end up working in silos instead of working together in evaluating and permitting air pollution. This bill would require and enable these two agencies to improve how they collaborate in this critical work.

Beyond the ways we engage, the bill also includes measures to reduce or eliminate a number of the worst pollution sources. This includes better emissions standards for the heavy equipment used in oil and gas drilling and cutting back on emissions from the drill rigs themselves.

The bill also makes all these pollution and pollution permitting activities more transparent to the public so oil and gas drilling operators are more accountable for following the law. This includes creating a user-friendly air quality information portal, improving the public complaint process, and allowing members of the public to initiate enforcement actions when they have valid evidence of violations.

Other provisions of the bill would improve enforcement of operators who violate air quality standards, and force the state to consider the cumulative damage of all pollution sources rather than only looking at each source one at a time.

Living here for 30 years, it saddens me our ozone crisis worsens instead of improves. Thinking about what this pollution is doing to my nine-year-old son’s lungs is frightening. In my time on the Fort Collins City Council and working with the city’s Air Quality Advisory Board, I’ve come to appreciate just how bad our air quality is, how aware my constituents are of these risks and what is required to tackle it. I know that my constituents desire more, especially given one-in-four of our households in our community have someone with a respiratory ailment. The legislature and governor can dramatically improve people’s lives across the Front Range. I encourage them to support HB23-1294.

Julie Pignataro serves on the Fort Collins City Council.

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