December 19, 2016 | FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Amy Gray, 350 Colorado Springs, firstname.lastname@example.org, 719-650-0259
Micah Parkin, 350 Colorado, Executive Director, email@example.com, 504-258-1247
Gina Hardin, 350 Colorado, Chair, firstname.lastname@example.org, 303-525-3076
Colorado Organizations, Businesses and Community Leaders Call on Colorado Springs Utilities Board and Mayor to disclose Air Quality Report and Withdraw Legal Action Against Local Resident Seeking Transparency
Colorado Springs, CO – On Monday dozens of local residents delivered a petition signed by over 1,300 Colorado residents and a letter signed by 45 organizations, businesses and community leaders to the Colorado Springs Utilities Board and Mayor John Suthers calling on them to publicly disclose the air quality studies conducted by the company AECOM, under contract to Colorado Springs Utilities, which found that sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from the Martin Drake plant greatly exceed health-based limits set in the 2010 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS)”) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The individuals and groups also demanded withdrawal of legal action against local resident Leslie Weise, who has filed in court for the air quality report to be made available to the public.
As reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette on November 21, 2016, Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) is in possession of a study showing that 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, specifically, that SO2 emissions have been and may still be out of compliance with NAAQS. Yet CSU falsely claimed to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission in 2015 (while knowing about the SO2 study) that the Martin Drake plant had been meeting all federal air quality standards.
The group letter states: “It is inexcusable that CSU is refusing to release these documents to the rate-paying public that funded the studies and is withholding them from the EPA, while hiding behind claims of attorney-client privilege. This information directly impacts public health and safety and therefore rightfully belongs in the public domain, not in a lawyer’s file cabinet.”
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, potentially leading to permanent respiratory system damage. Additionally, SO2 contributes to acid rain, which damages trees, plants, vehicles, structures and ecosystems. The letter asserts that residents of Colorado Springs and the surrounding area have a right to know what they are breathing from this urban power plant.
Local mother Amy Gray, who started the online petition demanding the release of the air quality report said that she did so after reading about the Utilities Board hiding the report in the Colorado Springs Gazette in November.
“What shook me so intensely is that The Utilities Board is hiding the information from the residents of the Pikes Peak Region and trying to punish the mother who is fighting to make that information public – all so we can breathe clean air,” said Gray. “As a parent this issue hits home – I too have child who attends a charter school beneath the plume of Martin Drake. My family lives and plays here. If I can’t fix this for my family and for my community what’s left to do? I can only say we would have to leave this beautiful place. I don’t want to do that, this is our home. But, where is the transparency? If we are breathing polluted air shouldn’t we know? Shouldn’t we have a choice as parents whether we raise our families beneath a toxic plume? Looking up at Pikes Peak every morning makes us some of the luckiest people on earth. I love this place, and I believe that it’s worth fighting for. Colorado Springs is far behind the rest of Colorado in green energy and needs to catch up. As tax paying members of this city we deserve better.”
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 is it stated that AECOM was hired to provide legal advice. Attorneys of the publicly owned municipal utility now assert that this firm of scientists and engineers were hired for legal purposes, claim attorney-client privilege, and refuse to release AECOM’s findings of air pollution violations from the public, despite the relevance of the information to public health and safety.
The letter states:
“We share 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, which unfortunately has a history of air quality violations and safety issues. It is a dereliction of responsibility and duty to not put the health, safety and welfare of your citizens above protecting CSU from pollution violation penalties. We call for an end to secretive behind-closed-doors decision-making, withholding of air quality information from the public and attempts to escape regulatory scrutiny. We seek accountability for CSU claiming to meet air quality standards even as harmful emissions from the plant blanket the area. Area residents deserve full transparency about threats to the health of their families from a utility that they own through their city. Otherwise, citizens are helpless to take action to protect themselves and future generations.
Let’s allow transparency and honesty to shape the way the future for electricity generation in Colorado Springs may emerge. The place to start is with the public release of the AECOM contract air quality study results for SO2 in the air that area residents breathe. Secondly, we urge Colorado Springs Utilities to stop fighting efforts by environmental groups and concerned residents, such as Leslie Weise, to expose non-compliance with the Clean Air Act and other regulatory obligations and to withdraw legal action and claims for expenses against Weise.”
In November, 2016, an electronic file containing the air quality modeling report showing violations of air quality emissions standards concerning the Drake Plant was inadvertently sent to Leslie Weise, a Monument resident, 350 Colorado Springs volunteer leader, and mother of a Colorado Springs student at an elementary school near the Drake Plant. The report showed violations of SO2 standards in Colorado Springs air. Weise had previously filed an appeal of a lower court’s decision against public disclosure of the report based upon CSU’s assertion of attorney-client privilege. Weise promptly informed the Court of Appeals regarding receipt of the report, and upon court order, diligently returned the file.
The letter continues:
“We are appalled that through the Office of the Attorney, the City of Colorado Springs has now requested that the Colorado Court of Appeals impose sanctions and fees upon Weise for discussing the air quality violations, which she believes was in compliance with the court order and well within her legal and ethical responsibilities. That CSU is seeking sanctions and financial compensation for the City’s legal costs from Weise, a single mother working without compensation to protect the residents of Colorado Springs, is an unfair burden and shift of blame for the City’s misdeeds.
The City of Colorado Springs action against Weise undoubtedly aims to frighten her into silence and terminate her legal efforts, which would otherwise be unnecessary if the Colorado Springs City Council/Utilities Board were fulfilling elected officials’ most basic duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of City residents and maintaining transparency of information.
We, as Coloradans concerned with health and safety of local residents and visitors, environmental quality, democracy, Colorado Open Records law, and the proper balance of citizen’s rights vs. corporate power, demand an honest, health-and-safety-first policy by The City of Colorado Springs and CSU, starting with the release of the aforementioned emissions report and a withdrawal of legal actions, proposed sanctions and financial penalties against Leslie Weise.
Let’s keep Colorado a beautiful, healthy and safe place to live and preserve public trust in our democracy.”
Gray continued, “I can only describe this situation as Orwellian. I will not sit idly by while the people of Colorado Springs are lied to and poisoned with every breath they take. As Margaret Mead said ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful , concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has’.”
A 1pm livestream of the protest, petition and letter delivery today can be found on Facebook via 350 Colorado