Polis reverses approach to 2019 and fights expensive gas mandate looming in Denver metro | Government

In a reversal of his approach to federal ozone determinations three years ago, Governor Jared Polis is set to ask the Environmental Protection Agency not to rush to impose a mixture of more expensive gasoline to help reduce ozone, calling it “problematic” and frustrating. “decades-old and unique” prescription for improving air quality.

“The administration is concerned about a rigid approach – the requirement to use reformulated gasoline (RFG) – that was enshrined in clean air law decades ago, but which may not be the best way to achieve our air quality goals, and we believe (it) deserves a rigorous cost-benefit analysis,” the Polis administration said in a letter that the Director of the Colorado Office of Energy, Will Toor, presented at a meeting of the Regional Air Quality Council on August 5.

The Metro Denver/Northern Front Range ozone-depletion region faces an impending downgrade to “severe” status, under which residents of Metro Denver and the Northern Front Range will pay for gasoline more expensive as of the summer of 2024, unless Polis decides to ask the federal government to reconsider, and the EPA agrees to an extension of time.

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At issue is the state’s failure to meet EPA ozone pollution standards for the region, which includes the Denver metro area and eight counties along the Front Range, from Douglas County north of Weld County.

Conor Cahill, spokesman for Governor Polis, confirmed that this letter represents the administration’s position.

“We made it clear that Governor Polis and the administration are looking for alternatives because the governor is committed to helping people save money on everyday items,” Cahill said, adding that the statement was included in the package for the Colorado Air Quality Control Board meeting “at the insistence of the Governor and his team of experts.

The letter appears to be intended to accompany the latest version of Colorado’s state implementation plan, which federal law requires for places that fail to meet air pollution standards.

Officials are preparing the new Colorado SIP.

The letter says the potential reduction in ozone concentrations, which are about 6% above the 2008 EPA standard of 75 parts per billion, would be so small that it would have no practical effect but would have a very high cost—exceeding 50 cents per gallon, by some estimates—to Colorado consumers and the state economy.

“Sensitivity modeling shows that the ozone reduction benefit of reformulated gasoline is only about 0.1 parts per billion,” the letter continues.

Greer Bailey, executive director of the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, said Polis and the EPA should carefully consider what the mandate would cost Coloradans.

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“This is by far one of the costliest proposals our regulatory partners could impose on our Front Range neighbors and families,” Bailey said. “I think it’s important for the governor and the EPA to look carefully, scientifically, at what the actual reduction (of ozone) would be, because those costs are going to be significant for families trying to navigate their way through. “

Bailey also said there was very little time left to submit Colorado’s request to delay the EPA’s determination of “serious” non-fulfillment.

Unless the governor files the request for reconsideration by Sept. 15, the RFG mandate automatically goes into effect, Bailey said.

The deadline appears to be tied to a settlement agreement deadline between the EPA and the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the EPA, claiming it was illegally delaying the downgrading of several cities across the country that are not Clean Air Act compliant.

Rich Mylott, US EPA Region 8 public affairs manager, did not provide a specific timeline when asked by The Denver Gazette.

“The EPA’s proposal to reclassify Denver to severe and moderate status under ozone standards is part of a larger agency action to assess and reclassify ozone-depleted areas across the United States. United States,” he said in a statement on Aug. 1. “The EPA is currently reviewing public comments on the April proposal and expects to issue final rulings for all of these areas later this year.

Bailey also said upgrading refineries to produce the new RFG blend could cost “tens of millions of dollars” and he expressed concern that outside refineries that supply gasoline to about 66% of Colorado may decide that it is not worth investing in such upgrades.

Colorado’s only refinery, Suncor’s Commerce City plant, supplies about 33% of the state’s gasoline.

Bailey said that if Suncor modified its plant to produce the new formulation, it likely wouldn’t make two summer blends, one for the metro Denver/Northern Front Range ozone-unaffected region and another for other Colorado communities as far away as Grand Junction that Suncor serves.

This could mean that Coloradans who live outside of the non-realization zones would also pay for the more expensive mix.

“The Grand Junction rail terminal is supplied by Suncor,” Bailey said. “And if they have to shift every gallon of gasoline to reach 40% of the Colorado market, then that’s all they’ll get. And that’s bleeding into Summit County and El Paso County and counties eastern plains like Morgan County, where they don’t have air quality issues.

And if out-of-state refiners refuse to produce the necessary blend, Bailey added, the price of reformulated gasoline supplied by the Suncor refinery will obviously skyrocket due to scarcity and could even reduce capacity. people to travel.

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A Suncor spokesperson told The Denver Gazette, “The refinery is preparing to be capable of producing RFG for the 2024 summer driving season, in accordance with Clean Air Act requirements for the area covered by the ‘severe’ designation. of non-fulfilment. The total cost of the project is estimated at over $36 million.

The Polis office echoed a similar concern earlier: a scenario where there are “very different gas prices in different parts of the state.”

The governor has previously said he will explore all options, including seeking a delay in the EPA’s determination, to ensure Coloradans don’t face a higher price at the gas pump.

“Absolutely, an extension request is one of the legal avenues that would be pursued if Colorado were to face increased gasoline prices as a result of EPA action,” Cahill said. “This is a hypothetical situation, and we have been pushing to reduce the ozone layer through free public transit, adoption of electric vehicles, etc. For example, if Colorado meets the guidelines on ozone, the threat has disappeared and no further action is required.

In the letter, the Polis administration called the automatic applicability of RFG “problematic for a variety of reasons.”

“The state is frustrated that the Clean Air Act only offers a decades-old one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t give states the latitude to make data-based decisions about what works best to improve quality. air in an economically efficient way. “, adds the letter.

Instead of this approach, the letter said the EPA should work with Colorado to conduct a detailed cost-benefit analysis measuring the cost of RFG to Coloradans and its benefits to human health and pollution control. ozone and climate change.

Such an analysis, the administration said, must also compare RFG to other strategies, while considering “the range of potential gas prices in the state, relative to other reduction strategies.”

“If the State demonstrates that the control measures included in the SIP will enable the State to achieve RFG-free achievement, that RFG does not provide a benefit to Coloradans that outweighs the costs, or difficult economic scenarios exist at the time the use of RFG would be implemented by the EPA,” the letter states, “the State will use available tools to avoid ineffective and costly measures.”

Polis’ position contrasts sharply with the approach he took in 2019.

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In 2018, the EPA determined that the Denver metro area and northern Front Range were not meeting air quality standards and were preparing to downgrade the region’s status to “serious” non-achievement.

Then-Governor and now U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper asked the federal agency for an extension of time for the state to meet the standards.

That year’s election ushered in a new administration, and about two months after taking office, Polis withdrew Colorado’s request for an extension.

“We believe that the interests of our citizens are best served by moving forward aggressively and without delay in our efforts to reduce ground-level ozone concentrations in the Metro Denver/North Front Range No-Go Area.” , Polis said in his March 19, 2019, letter to the EPA.

The big difference between 2019 and 2022 is the high gas prices that would come with the latest downgrade.

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