Controversial air pollution bill now law in Colorado despite industry opposition

The Suncor refinery in Commerce City. March 6, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
The Suncor refinery in Commerce City. March 6, 2021.

Gov. Jared Polis has signed a bill that will strengthen Colorado’s policing of air pollution above what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently requires.

The new law targets 188 pollutants the federal government recognizes as hazardous but doesn’t directly regulate under the Clean Air Act. 

The Air Quality Control Commission will be tasked with determining the highest priority contaminants based on their potential risk to public health and crafting regulations to reduce their presence in the air.

The law also increases air monitoring around the state and requires companies to report their annual emissions of certain pollutants.

In order to get HB22-1244 passed, its Democratic sponsors did agree to some changes, including only studying the feasibility of enacting a new permitting program to regulate polluters that release toxic air compounds, instead of requiring the commission to create such a program. A last-minute amendment also gave the legislature the final say over health-based ambient air quality standards for priority toxins.

Despite those changes, state Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, told CPR News the plan remains a win for communities of color most affected by air pollution. 

“We had to make concessions along the way but the health and safety of our children and our communities — when we know corporate polluters are spewing toxins into the air — it’s worth it.”

Opposition to the bill came from Xcel Energy, Suncor Energy — a financial supporter of CPR News — and other businesses with heavy industrial operations in urban areas. After it passed in the waning days of the session, business groups urged Polis to veto it.

The National Federation for Independent Business warned the law duplicates existing EPA regulations and will create “litigation landmines” for the state if it fails to enact the law fully. 

In addition to HB22-1244, Polis also signed on to the creation of a range of grant programs to get industries and local governments to cut their air pollution. The $124 million package will fund things like voluntary improvements to industrial, manufacturing and cannabis facilities, rebates to help people buy ebikes, programs for school districts to switch to electric buses, and more aerial surveying of pollution.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify the parameters of the program the Commission is required to study.

CPR’s Sam Brasch contributed to this story.