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Whistleblower Headed to Court Over Air Quality Report

A whistleblower is headed to court over emissions from a coal-fired power plant near downtown Colorado Springs. (Oneillbro/iStockphoto)
A whistleblower is headed to court over emissions from a coal-fired power plant near downtown Colorado Springs. (Oneillbro/iStockphoto)
January 6, 2017

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Leslie Weise, who blew the whistle on pollution from a coal-fired power plant in Colorado Springs, is headed to court today. After a district court accidentally sent Weise an air-quality report, she shared it with the news media. Now, Colorado Springs Utilities, which operates the Martin Drake plant, is seeking attorneys' fees and sanctions.

Jacquie Ostrom, former co-chair of the utilities' Electric Integrated Resource Plan, said the court asked Weise to return the report, which she did, but the court didn't prohibit Weise from revealing its findings.

"It does show noncompliance," she said. "It modeled the past from the emissions from the stacks with meteorological data from the airport. So all factual, measured information went into this model."

Weise told the Colorado Springs Gazette that the study found sulfur-dioxide violations of the Clean Air Act and other regulations at the Drake plant. The utilities' chief executive has denied any violations, and officials have said releasing the report would violate attorney-client privilege.

The 80-year-old plant is scheduled to be shut down by 2035.

National air-quality standards say sulfur dioxide can cause severe health effects in concentrations as low as 75 parts per billion, and exposure for as little as five minutes can cause respiratory distress - especially for children, the elderly and people with asthma.

Ostrom maintained that access to the report, which was paid for by ratepayers, is a public-health issue.

"Sulfur dioxide is one of the worst pollutants that we can breathe into our lungs," she said. "It causes asthma, which causes heart trouble, so, it's pretty serious, and CSU is trying to hide how serious this has been in the past."

More than 1,400 Coloradans have signed a petition and more than 45 business and community leaders have signed a letter asking the utilities to release the air-quality report. Nearly 300,000 people live within a five-mile radius of the Martin Drake plant.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO