The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has reassigned its top air pollution control official to a newly-created job in the wake of a special investigator’s probe confirming his failure to report a potential conflict of interest.
Garry Kaufman, who has led the Air Pollution Control Division since 2017 and previously worked on air permitting for clients at a private law firm, will now be deputy director of regulatory affairs, according to an email to state employees from Shaun McGrath, CDPHE’s environmental health and protection director.
The Colorado Sun first detailed Kaufman’s oversight of state air pollution permits for a former client, Newmont Corp.’s Cripple Creek & Victor gold mine in Teller County. Newmont was a client of Kaufman’s before 2017, when he was an attorney with Holland & Hart and working on state permitting issues.
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office appointed an independent investigator to look into the questions about Kaufman and other issues with how the division models potential pollution when issuing permits to Colorado industrial polluters. A group of whistleblowers working for CDPHE accused their superiors of failing to follow EPA rules in permitting for multiple companies. One of the whistleblowers objected to decisions Kaufman, back with the state after 2017, had made about the gold mine’s permit.
The independent counsel’s September report discounted some of the whistleblowers’ complaints about the overall permitting process, but took to task the handling of Kaufman’s perceived conflict.
“Kaufman had a potential conflict of interest with respect to the (Cripple Creek & Victor) mine, which he did not report for two and a half years in violation of CDPHE policy, but the conflict was resolved prior to issuance of the final permit,” according to the report, by Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders. The law firm was hired by the attorney general, at the direction of CDPHE, state health officials said.
Kaufman has said he retained no financial stake in Holland & Hart after he rejoined the state and therefore had no conflict, and that after consulting with department officials, he removed himself from decisions about the gold mine for the final permit.
Conservation groups seeking tougher limits on Colorado air pollution and a crackdown on violators have said the state division errs too often on the side of industry when making permitting and enforcement decisions.
McGrath, though, praised Kaufman’s work in the note to employees, and said the reorganization was to prepare for an even larger workload ahead, as APCD and the Air Quality Control Commission work through new legislation and previously scheduled rulemaking for pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
“The state is at an inflection point with regard to air quality and climate change. We expect the demands, expectations and scope of the Air Pollution Control Division to continue to grow and are making adjustments to add capacity and to place leaders in areas where their expertise can be even more focused as we meet this moment in time,” McGrath said.
“Garry will help manage the policy and planning, compliance and enforcement functions. We thank Garry for his hard work in getting us to where we are today, and particularly in overseeing the implementation of SB 19-181, HB19-1261 and SB19-096, which moved Colorado forward in terms of emissions measurement, monitoring, reductions and enforcement.”
The state will conduct a nationwide search for a new APCD director, McGrath said. Trisha Oeth, administrator of the state Water Quality Control Division, will be the interim director.