Colorado Democrats Introduce Bill to Raise Fines on Polluters

Suncor's Commerce City refinery ranks as one of Colorado's largest stationary sources of air pollution.EXPAND
Suncor's Commerce City refinery ranks as one of Colorado's largest stationary sources of air pollution.
Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

A new bill introduced by Colorado lawmakers would raise the maximum penalty that state regulators are able to impose on polluters — and give impacted communities more of a say in how that money is spent.

“We’re giving people who are experiencing harmful pollutants and the effects of these pollutants an opportunity to decide how they should be made whole,” says Representative Dominique Jackson, a Democrat from Aurora.

In most cases, state law currently allows regulators at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to impose a penalty of $15,000 per day for an air-quality violation and $10,000 per day for a water-quality violation. House Bill 1143, introduced on Friday, January 17, would raise both figures to $47,357 — the maximum allowed under federal law — beginning in 2021, and adjust it annually from there.

Under the bill, any penalties or fines collected by CDPHE regulators through an enforcement action would flow into a new community impact fund. An environmental-justice advisory board, made up of four members appointed by the legislature and three members appointed by CDPHE’s executive director, would be tasked with collaborating with residents of communities impacted by pollution to fund specific “environmental mitigation projects.”

“I wanted to make sure, first and foremost, that the people in these impacted communities had a say,” Jackson says. “They know their communities better than anybody else, and they know what they need.”

Persistently high levels of ozone pollution along the Front Range led the Environmental Protection Agency to downgrade the region’s air-quality rating in a December ruling — a trend that is attributable in part to emissions from Colorado’s booming oil and gas industry. Jackson says that her bill wasn't prompted by any specific incident or industry, though she acknowledges that environmental justice is a priority in so-called fenceline communities like Commerce City, where a December 11 malfunction at the Suncor Energy oil refinery emitted a plume of yellow ash-like material that coated outdoor surfaces and alarmed nearby residents.

“These kinds of events are happening across the state,” Jackson says. “Clearly, yes, it could be some sort of opacity event like we just experienced [with Suncor]. It could be a water-quality violation, some sort of dumping of toxins. This is not a bill that is pointing a finger at any particular industry. But we do know that there are violations occurring.

"This bill is for every single solitary Coloradan," she adds. "Every person that lives in this state has a right to clean air and clean water. And we just want to make sure that that's what they're getting."

HB 1143 will be heard in the House Energy Committee and the House Finance Committee. Senator Faith Winter, a Democrat from Thornton, is the bill’s only sponsor in the Senate.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.