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Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division last week withdrew a permit it issued for a tanker truck repair shop in Commerce City after a lawsuit by neighbors and an environmental group accused state regulators of approving the application in 10 minutes without modeling the expected pollution. 

An Adams County District Judge on March 16 voided the permit for Polar Service Center after the state, the Center for Biological Diversity and North Range Concerned Citizens agreed the state should withdraw the permit and start over. The opponents argued the tanker cleaning operation would send asthma-causing pollution toward nearby schools and contribute to the Front Range’s continuing violations of EPA ozone standards. 

“This truck repair shop is located in a part of Commerce City which already bears a disproportionate burden of pollution from a variety of other sources,” said Kristi Douglas, chair of North Range Concerned Citizens, in a news release. 

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State officials said Wednesday they would evaluate a newly filed permit when Polar Service files one. 

“It is the division’s understanding that Polar has not installed, and does not intend to install, the equipment at issue” in the permit and the lawsuit, the Air Pollution Control Division said in the parties’ joint motion to dismiss the lawsuit and void the permit. “Further, it is the division’s understanding that Polar is actively considering a new permitting option for the subject facility.”

Polar Service apparently wanted to install equipment to send lingering tanker fumes to a flare to burn off the chemicals, according to court filings. Polar Service’s parent company did not return messages Wednesday. 

The environmental groups say case filings show the state permit reviewer spent only 10 minutes in deciding that the Polar Service equipment wasn’t likely to contribute to violations of EPA emissions rules. Such haste is indicative of past division practices of approving too many permits and not adequately modeling a project’s impact on overall emissions, said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Robert Ukeiley. 

“I think it is a manifestation of the division’s deep-seated culture of thinking the polluters are their customers so they rubber stamp whatever the polluter says,” Ukeiley said. 

He noted that internal whistleblowers questioned numerous division approvals of faulty permits in 2021, and some of their allegations were affirmed by investigations from the Attorney General’s Office. 

Environmental groups have won multiple court cases against the air pollution division in recent years, including over a severe backlog of permit applications that has resulted in companies operating for years on expired permits. 

Some Democratic legislators are working with nonprofit groups on a draft of a bill to issue strict new permitting requirements for the Air Pollution Control Division and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It’s unclear when that legislation will be introduced. 

In the meantime, Gov. Jared Polis surprised environmental groups earlier in March by directing those agencies to write rules to cut ozone-causing nitrogen oxide emissions in half by 2030. Such a dramatic cut in NOx emissions would largely have to come from oil and gas drilling and distribution operations. 

A new permit review for Polar Service will force the state to “follow the science and obey the law,” Ukeiley said. 

Michael Booth is a Colorado Sun reporter covering health, health policy and the environment. Email: booth@coloradosun.com Twitter: @MBoothDenver