• Original Reporting
  • Sources Cited
Original Reporting This article contains new, firsthand information uncovered by its reporter(s). This includes directly interviewing sources and research / analysis of primary source documents.
Sources Cited As a news piece, this article cites verifiable, third-party sources which have all been thoroughly fact-checked and deemed credible by the Newsroom in accordance with the Civil Constitution.
I-70’s westbound lanes flow along Clear Creek at the western base of Floyd Hill in Clear Creek County on Wednesday, Feb. 23. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

A coalition of Colorado environmental groups has filed a petition with the Air Quality Control Commission demanding they finish rules for cleaner trucks by the end of this year, saying they are harming Colorado residents through a series of delays in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and ozone. 

The AQCC should order staff at the Air Pollution Control Division to complete rules in 2022 requiring dealers sell a certain percentage of cleaner trucks as originally scheduled, otherwise a delay to 2023 will put off sales of cleaner models until at least 2027, according to the group, which includes the Sierra Club, Colorado GreenLatinos, Western Resource Advocates, Boulder County and NAACP Denver. 

“Black, Brown and Indigenous families and neighborhoods in Colorado suffer disproportionately from the negative health effects of dirty trucks driving and idling near homes and businesses. Cleaning up truck pollution is good environmental policy, good social justice policy and good economic policy,” said Wendy Howell of the Colorado Working Families Party, part of the coalition. “Delay is simply unacceptable.” 

Work on the so-called Advanced Clean Trucks Strategy will begin this year, stait officials said. 

“Our highest priority with this and every rulemaking is making sure we get it right. Our position as laid out in our Clean Trucking Strategy remains the same — beginning a rulemaking process for Advanced Clean Trucks in late 2022,” the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees the Air Pollution Control Division, said in a statement. 

“Contrary to claims from the petitioners, the Polis Administration has moved quickly and aggressively to advance a bold climate change agenda,” the CDPHE statement said. 

The petitioners cite newly established federal and state laws requiring that environmental justice provisions for highly impacted communities be included in new pollution restrictions and industrial permitting. They say a series of delays by the state in finishing rules on cleaner commuting for large employers, and requiring emissions cuts by heavy industry, are also an affront to those environmental-justice provisions. 

The petition also offers detailed arguments on why truck and other industrial pollution hits high-minority, low-income neighborhoods like North Denver disproportionately compared with the rest of the state. Truck-heavy interstates 70, 76 and 270 carve up North Denver and southern Adams County, and living near major roads “increases the risk of asthma and reduced lung function, the onset of childhood asthma, and cardiovascular death,” the petition said. 

“Trucks contribute 30% of (nitrogen oxide) emissions and 40% of (particulate matter) emissions in Colorado, despite comprising less than 10% of on-road vehicles,” it adds. Elyria Swansea in North Denver “is the most polluted neighborhood in the country,” in studies by ZIP code, the petitioners said. Those neighborhoods are also impacted by heavy pollution industry, including the Suncor Energy refinery and Xcel’s Cherokee power station. 

“North Denver residents suffer some of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and asthma in the metro area,” while having less access to health care, the petition said.

The environmental justice coalition has recent success to draw on. In December, a similar group forced the state Water Quality Control Commission to reconsider stronger protections for urban streams after the commission had earlier declined to consider tougher rules. 

State officials say that they have completed rulemaking and major pollution-cutting policy changes in areas like emissions from oil and gas activity, a push for electric vehicles to replace gas and diesel, closing coal-fired power plants and putting greenhouse gas reduction requirements in a major transportation funding bill. 

Still, the effort to strengthen an environmental justice overlay for states’ pollution policy is taking shape. Late Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent state health officials a letter notifying them that local environmental justice efforts are now under review of the federal agency’s civil rights office.

The EPA letter notes Colorado lawmakers passage of House Bill 1266 last year, the Environmental Justice Act, which mandates additional pollution cuts such as 20% for the industrial sector and creates a justice ombudsman position. The letter says the EPA General Counsel’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office has the responsibility to “conduct periodic compliance reviews of recipients of EPA financial assistance in accordance with the EPA’s nondiscrimination regulation.”

The civil rights office will be “conducting a compliance review of CDPHE as part of ECRCO’s national responsibilities. ECRCO is interested in working with CDPHE to ensure that CDPHE’s methods of administering its air program, including impacts of the air program in North Denver, comport with civil rights legal requirements,” the letter said. 

State officials responded in a statement about the letter, “We understand EPA is looking at . . . compliance across the country, and we believe Colorado, like all states, will benefit from this exercise.”

CDPHE noted the letter calls Colorado a leader on environmental justice issues, “and we look forward to working cooperatively with EPA in this review and developing a national model for ensuring compliance with civil rights laws.”

Michael Booth is the Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of the Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He is co-author with Jennifer Brown of the Colorado Book Award-winning food safety investigation “Eating Dangerously.” Booth was part of teams that won two Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news. He also writes frequently about inexplicable obsessions that include tamarisk, black-footed ferrets and tire fires. Booth also serves as the underpaid driver for four children, and plans to eventually hike every inch of Colorado.