DENVER— Environmental groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to ensure the reduction of dangerous smog pollution from oil and gas drilling in Metro-Denver and the Front Range. The polluted areas are home to around 3.5 million people and include Boulder, Greeley, Fort Collins, Denver and Loveland.
The groups are calling for the EPA to make sure that areas violating air-quality standards for smog have legally required plans in place to clean up one of the biggest contributors to the pollution: the oil and fracked gas industry.
“This lawsuit will force EPA to review the rules created under former Governor Hickenlooper that failed to crack down on the oil and gas industry’s contribution to smog on the Front Range,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Front Range had a severe smog problem for many years and this will finally force EPA to take a hard look at why Colorado has failed to make it safe for kids and others to breathe.”
People exposed to excess ground-level ozone, the principle pollutant in smog, can experience reduced lung function and increased respiratory problems like asthma attacks, causing increased visits to emergency rooms and even premature death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 13 people (25 million Americans) suffers from asthma. In 2013 children missed 13.8 million school days because of asthma — the top reason for children’s missed school days in the United States.
“Delay in implementing these protections leads to more cases of asthma,” said Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health. “It should not be this difficult to get the EPA to make sure children and families have clean air to breathe.”
An EPA study in 2015 estimated that Clean Air Act programs that reduce ozone pollution would prevent more than 3,180 premature deaths and 390,000 asthma attacks in children alone. The agency also estimates that the net economic benefit of fully implementing the 2015 ozone emissions limit — the current standard — would be as much as $4.5 billion.
Beyond the human health concerns, ozone pollution also harms wildlife and plants. Oil and gas drilling is a key driver of the quickly escalating wildlife extinction crisis. Ozone hurts forests by increasing forest fires, disease and insect infestations. Sensitive tree species at risk from ozone exposure include aspen, ponderosa pine and cottonwood, all of which provide essential habitat for imperiled birds and butterflies.