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Opinion Columns

Sens. Fenberg, Gonzales, Hansen and Winter: Say goodbye to the brown cloud

A package of new laws is a significant step toward cleaner Colorado air

Everyone deserves to breathe clean, healthy air, regardless of their ZIP Code. Unfortunately, that is not the case for far too many of our neighbors, and it impacts kids, older Coloradans, and folks in disadvantaged communities the hardest. 

Clockwise from top left: State Sens. Steve Fenberg, Julie Gonzales, Faith Winter and Chris Hansen

Last summer, Denver had the worst air quality in the world. The Northern Front Range was recently downgraded from a “serious” to a “severe” violator of federal ozone standards by the Environmental Protection Agency. Nationally, Colorado is among the top 10 states with the worst air quality.

Breathing polluted air can lead to serious health consequences such as respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. If you already are sick, your conditions are likely to get worse. 

We’ve taken action to address this issue in recent years, but there is always more that we can and must do.

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Our air quality is in such dire condition that some of our kids’ sports practices have been canceled because it’s not safe for them to breathe the air. Some of our family members with underlying health conditions can’t even go outside without risking their health. 

As concerned Coloradans who want to protect all families from air pollution, we are deeply troubled by the infamous “brown cloud” and how it will impact our futures, and we simply refuse to let this be our new normal. We know families across our state face the same challenges we do; that’s why we’re taking action now to clean up our polluted air, improve our collective quality of life, and build a healthier Colorado for all. 

This session, the General Assembly passed a package of bills that the governor has recently signed into law. These new laws will make historic investments to improve air quality across Colorado so that every Coloradan has clean, healthy air to breathe – no matter where they live. 

The legislation recognizes that marginalized communities often are the most impacted by poor air quality by demanding environmental justice in disadvantaged areas. Many of our oil and gas facilities that are prone to health hazards – such as leaks from pipelines and compressor stations – are located in low-income neighborhoods. Our legislation aims to ensure proper monitoring of these facilities to prevent potentially harmful health threats. At the same time, we’re going to better identify high-risk air toxics based on their health impacts, and adopt health-based standards that prioritize the health and well-being of communities across our state.  

Just like so many of you, we are sick and tired of hazy air and ozone alerts. We know that the transportation sector is the top contributor of ground-level ozone, and a key way to address it is to increase multimodal options and incentivize public transit ridership. That’s why our legislation will allow Coloradans to utilize our transit system for free during ozone season, which will reduce the pollution that creates harmful ozone. 

Similarly, we’re jumpstarting the transition of Colorado’s school bus fleet from diesel to electric. Diesel school buses are a major source of pollution that impact our kids’ health, especially in low-income communities. We’re also going to expand community access to electric bicycles for thousands of low-  and moderate-income folks across our state. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Another bill in this package will further invest millions of dollars to encourage emissions reductions in the industrial sector, while working to reduce building energy use, make high-efficiency electric appliances more accessible, and prioritize near-zero emissions construction to support our emissions reductions goals. 

The actions we’re taking in this package are proven to reduce pollution and create healthier communities based on their efficacy in other states in America and countries throughout the world. We know what works, we know what will keep our communities safe and healthy – that’s why we’re taking this important step forward and building on the progress we’ve already made. 

To be clear, this is only the beginning, but this package of legislation is a significant step forward and sets us on the right track to tackle air pollution. We will continue to work to reduce air pollution in our communities so that every Coloradan can breathe the clean air they deserve.


Steve Fenberg represents the 18th District; Julie Gonzales represents the 34th District; Chris Hansen represents the 31st District; and Faith Winter represents the 24th District in the Colorado Senate.



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