Tell the City of Colorado Springs: Release documents that show violations of air pollution

As reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette on November 21, 2016 http://gazette.com/sulfur-dioxide-emissions-from-drake-plant-violated-federal-standards-attorney-says/article/1590718 Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) is in possession of study results showing the Martin Drake coal-fired power plant has been operating in violation of state and federal air pollution regulations including the federal Clean Air Act – but won’t release the results to the public. Specifically, the documents show air quality studies conducted by the company AECOM, under contract to CSU, found SO2 emissions from the Martin Drake plant greatly exceed the health-based limits for what is deemed safe for people to breathe set in the 2010 National Ambient Air Quality Standards by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). CSU is shielding these documents from the rate-paying public that funded the studies, and withholding them from the EPA, through excuse that they are attorney-client privileged. However this information directly impacts public health and safety and therefore rightfully belongs in the public domain, not in a lawyer’s file cabinet.

Smokestacks of industrial facilities such as the Martin Drake Plant emit sulfur dioxide as a by-product of burning coal, which harms people at exposure levels above a certain limit. According to the EPA, “Short-term exposures to SO2 can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. Children, the elderly, and those who suffer from asthma are particularly sensitive to effects of SO2.” SO2 also reacts with other compounds to form tiny particles that penetrate deeply into the lungs. Additionally, SO2 contributes to acid rain and damage to trees and plants. The residents of Colorado Springs have a right to know what they are breathing from this urban power plant.

Even though CSU was in possession of the SO2 study results in 2015 showing harmful pollution levels, they falsely claimed to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission that year that the Martin Drake plant is meeting all federal air quality standards.

CSU hired the engineering firm AECOM in 2013 to perform air quality studies to help CSU maintain compliance with air quality regulations. Nowhere in the 2013 AECOM contract with CSU does it state that AECOM was hired to provide legal advice. The lawyers for this publicly owned municipal utility now claim they hired this firm of scientists and engineers for legal purposes. This gives them a loophole to suppress AECOM’s findings of air pollution violations from the public, despite the impact of the information to public health and safety.

We share with the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, and the government of the City of Colorado Springs, a deep concern for the health, welfare and quality of life for all the citizens of the Pikes Peak Region, especially the 387,000 people, including 120,000 children, living within five miles of the Martin Drake power plant.

We urge you to put the health and welfare of your citizens above protecting CSU from pollution violation penalties. Let’s allow transparency and honesty shape the way in our future vision for electricity generation in Colorado Springs. The place to start is the public release of the AECOM contract air quality study results for SO2 in the air that we breathe.

Thank you.

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