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Measuring Costs of Not Reining in Air Pollution

If pollution from Suncor's Commerce City refinery were eliminated, Adams County could see health and economic benefits between $5 million and $12 million annually, according to a new report. (Jason Woodhead/Flickr)
If pollution from Suncor's Commerce City refinery were eliminated, Adams County could see health and economic benefits between $5 million and $12 million annually, according to a new report. (Jason Woodhead/Flickr)
May 26, 2020

DENVER -- If pollutants from a single oil refinery in Adams County were eliminated, Colorado could see economic and health benefits worth between $15 million and $35 million each year, according to a new Colorado Fiscal Institute report.

The report also highlighted new Harvard research showing that people living in highly polluted areas - disproportionately people of color - also are more at risk of dying from COVID-19. Report co-author Rayna Hetlage said people living nearr highways and industry are paying multiple costs.

"If you can't work one day because your child is having an asthma attack and can't be at school, you're paying for that as well in lost days that you can be at work. And your child is paying for that in lost educational opportunities," Hetlage said.

Communities surrounding industrial operations don't know what pollution they may be exposed to during the pandemic, after the Trump administration allowed companies to not comply with standards they view as inconvenient.

The Suncor refinery in Commerce City has defended its operations, saying it's working with regulators to address concerns and is self-reporting incidents of excessive emissions. The 80216 ZIP code where Suncor operates also is bracketed by two interstate highways and is considered one of the most polluted ZIP codes in the nation.

Hetlage said many families living in the shadow of industry are unable to move because affordable housing - especially in communities along the Front Range - is increasingly hard to find.

"And it's not that easy to just pick up and move to somewhere else," she said. "People are living where they can afford and afford to raise their families. Just because that's what you can afford doesn't mean that you and your family should have to suffer from health issues."

Colorado lawmakers are considering two measures that could move the state closer to protecting residents from air pollution. House Bill 1143 would increase the amount companies can be fined for unlawful emissions, from the current maximum of $15,000 to just over $47,000 per day. And House Bill 1265 would require companies to alert surrounding communities in real time when they exceed pollution limits.

Disclosure: Colorado Fiscal Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Census, Education, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO