Improving Air Quality: Governor Polis Directs State Agencies to Take New & Comprehensive Steps to Help Build Upon Administration’s Landmark Clean Air Efforts, Cut Pollution Including Ozone

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Gov. Polis announces a major new action to curb harmful air pollution from the oil and gas sector & the first comprehensive nitrogen oxides (NOx) reduction program for oil and gas in the U.S.

DENVER - In an ongoing effort to rapidly improve Colorado’s air quality, Governor Polis directed state agencies to take new and comprehensive steps to help build upon his administration’s landmark clean air efforts. Today, Governor Polis announced a new and historic effort to curb harmful air pollution from the oil and gas sector and the first comprehensive nitrogen oxides (NOx) reduction program for oil and gas in the U.S. to reduce oil and gas emissions by at least 30% in the next two years (in 2025) and at least 50% in 2030.

Governor Polis wrote in a letter to the directors of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and the Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). 

“This action will significantly improve air quality and contribute to Colorado’s efforts to achieve reduced and safer levels of Ozone pollution, with immediate cuts in ozone-causing chemicals in Colorado’s air in the next 2 years and the largest regulatory reduction in NOₓ from oil and gas in Colorado’s history,” the Governor wrote.

“When it comes to air pollution, my administration prioritizes legislation, unprecedented statewide investments, and administrative actions that address greenhouse gas and ozone pollution on a sector-by-sector basis aligned with the State’s statutory emissions goals. This approach is already proving itself effective in, for example, the transportation sector where Colorado leads the region in electric vehicle sales and charging infrastructure, or in the power sector where we will achieve more than 80% pollution reduction on the grid by 2030 and are on a path to 100% renewable energy by 2040,” the Governor wrote. 

“I am focused on common sense efforts to cut pollution and continue to grow our economy while making our air cleaner and people healthier. It is also important to continue this work in partnership with the legislature and faithfully and successfully implement past oil and gas reforms such as the landmark SB19-181,” the letter continued. “Despite passing meaningful and effective legislation to reduce emissions from oil and gas operations, the sector still has a significant impact on our state’s air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. Put simply, just as we need to do more in transportation and other sectors, we need to do more to reduce emissions from oil and gas operations in Colorado. So today, I am directing a series of major administrative actions to significantly and expeditiously cut air emissions from this sector and support our overall air quality and greenhouse gas reduction objectives.”  

The Governor announced the most significant standard in Colorado’s history to reduce harmful air pollution from the oil and gas sector and the first comprehensive NOₓ (nitrogen oxides) reduction program for the oil and gas industry in the U.S. 

Breathing air with a high concentration of NOx can harm breathing, and exposures over short periods can aggravate respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, leading to respiratory symptoms (such as coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing), hospital admissions, and visits to emergency rooms. Unfortunately, long-term exposure to high concentrations of this pollutant could contribute to the development of asthma and potentially increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Coloradans with asthma, as well as children and the elderly are generally at greater risk for the health effects of NOₓ.

Today, Governor Polis directed the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, in close coordination with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC), to undertake the following actions:  

  • Directing COGCC and CDPHE to work together to develop a rule (or rules) by the end of 2024 that requires upstream oil and gas operators in the ozone nonattainment area to achieve at least a 30% reduction of NOx during the ozone season in 2025 and at least 50% in 2030 from a 2017 baseline as used in the current SIP. To achieve the NOx targets, the AQCC should engage in rulemaking that will most effectively reduce sector-wide NOx through available control strategies and consider whether the rule is suitable for adoption into the SIP. These emissions reductions should be verifiable and reportable to the public, and COGCC, CDPHE, and AQCC should revisit and consider updating these targets at least every three years. 

  • Directing the COGCC through rulemaking to solidify environmental best management practices addressing ozone, and should revisit and consider updating these practices regularly. 

  • Directing the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission to prioritize the development of an environmental best management practices program at the COGCC. This program should incentivize and reward operators who at the company or project-level are demonstrating industry-leading environmental performance in greenhouse gas and local air pollution mitigation including exceeding goals. The long-term goal of this effort should be to foster a carbon-neutral oil and gas sector in Colorado achieved through on-site and off-site reductions (scope 1 and 2 emissions)

Former Environmental Protection Administrator, air quality expert, and the first White House national climate advisor, Gina McCarthy offered support for Governor Polis’s action today:

“During my time at the state and federal levels, serving six governors and two presidents, I saw firsthand the change we can make when we work together to clean up our air and tackle climate change for the sake of our health, future generations, and the planet. Today's announcement by Governor Polis and his team will deliver significant and rapid reforms to clean up the air across Colorado,” said Gina McCarthy.

Colorado’s federal leaders supported this landmark action.

“This is a major step forward to improve air quality for Coloradans. I applaud Governor Polis’ efforts to achieve this commitment to reduce harmful NOx pollution from Colorado’s oil and gas industry. Colorado continues to lead the nation in the transition to a clean energy economy, and we will not stop fighting to clean up our air and cut climate pollution to protect our state, the next generation, and the planet we all share,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. 

“Colorado led the country on fighting methane emissions, and now it will lead on lowering NOx emissions. Limiting NOx emissions cleans up our air and improves public health—especially for kids and Coloradans with asthma. Cleaner technology also benefits our climate. Governor Polis’ announcement will unleash innovation and keep Colorado the national leader in combating pollution,” said U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper. 

The Colorado-based clean energy think tank Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), and the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, a national, non-partisan, non-profit association of air pollution control agencies in 40 states, offered support for this action. 

“Colorado's efforts to jointly reduce smog and greenhouse gasses is a big step toward addressing two pressing problems at once. RMI’s analysis using the Oil Climate Index plus Gas tool finds that the single best near-term mitigation measure in the oil and gas sector is to use renewable energy for power, heat, and steam at oil and gas facilities. We're excited to see Colorado incentivize these actions to achieve both climate and air quality goals,” said Deborah Gordon, Senior Principal, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), senior fellow at the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, and author of No Standard Oil: Managing Abundant Petroleum in a Warming World.  

Miles Keogh, Executive Director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies which is the national, non-partisan, non-profit association of air pollution control agencies in 40 states said: “Air pollution is a challenge that continues to threaten our health, prosperity, and planet.  States like Colorado increasingly have to use innovative and groundbreaking strategies to find the reductions needed to deliver the Clean Air Act’s public health protections.  Where the states lead, the country follows, and today’s action will reduce harmful pollution for the people of Colorado, advance a clean economy, and set an example of national leadership ensuring clean air for all.”  

Governor Polis released a video message on this landmark action.