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Colorado attorney general launches probe of whistleblowers’ air-pollution control complaints

Phil Weiser’s office asks for a third-party investigator to assess internal employee complaints that the Air Pollution Control Division ignored the law and falsified data

Haze and smog shroud the mountain view behind the Denver City and County Building, as seen in a Nov. 5, 2019, file photo. (John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)
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The Colorado Attorney General’s Office is hiring an independent investigator to probe whistleblower allegations that the state health department’s Air Pollution Control Division failed to properly enforce EPA air quality standards. 

The Colorado Department of Law, led by Attorney General Phil Weiser, late Monday afternoon posted a request for proposals to investigate the detailed whistleblower complaint filed with the EPA’s Office of Inspector General on March 30. The whistleblowers alleged dozens of air pollution permits were issued unlawfully to companies, and that one of the whistleblowers was ordered to falsify data in order to get pollution estimates under permitted caps. 

The posted request calls for “an independent and thorough investigation of factual allegations raised by CDPHE employees Rosendo Majano, De Vondria Reynolds and Bradley Fink in their letter dated March 30, 2021,” to the EPA. The request for an investigator said the contractor “will consider allegations in the EPA Letter that permits were unlawfully issued and that a CDPHE modeler was ordered to falsify data in a modeling report to ensure that no modeled violation would be reported.”

Chandra Rosenthal, an attorney for one of the whistleblowers, said the call for an independent probe signals Colorado’s “commitment to transparency, scientific integrity and combating air pollution. 

A third-party investigator is needed because the attorney general would be representing CDPHE and the governor in any future action, said Joe Salazar, executive director of the climate action group Colorado Rising and a former legislator. Salazar said the AG’s office worked closely with environmental groups, Green Latinos and the Colorado Latino Forum to shape the request for a third party. 

“I’ve been thrilled with the level of work and cooperation the AG’s office has shown us,” Salazar said. 

Proposals are due May 10. 

The whistleblowers claim the division leaders ignored EPA rules on modeling and permitting short-term pollutants from various industries, including mines, asphalt plants and oil and gas gathering sites. They said the individual permits in question are part of a larger problem of state officials catering to industry needs rather than looking out first for protecting clean air for Coloradans. 

Representatives of the CDPHE and Air Pollution Control Division said late Monday they were the ones who asked for the probe.

“CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan requested the investigation from the Attorney General’s Office with the governor’s office’s support,” a statement said. “While we are confident that the division is acting in accordance with state and federal laws,” the statement added, the department will be “responsive to the concerns raised and transparent in everything we do.”

UPDATED: This story was updated at 8:45 p.m. on April 26, 2021, with additional information.

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