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Colorado creating new rules to address oil and gas impacts on health and environment

"Community is a stakeholder just as much as industry and we're tired," says a long-time activist
Renée Millard-Chacon
Posted at 4:57 PM, Oct 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-07 19:02:17-05

DENVER — Colorado’s top regulatory agency for the oil and gas industry heard from the public this week as the state plans new rules to evaluate and address impacts to health and the environment.

Community members and environmental groups told Denver7 they’ve expressed their concerns to the state about the harms they’ve been experiencing for years, and they hope this time, the state will take action.

“We're exhausted,” said Renée Millard-Chacon, a member of Colorado’s Environmental Justice Action Task Force, who lives in Commerce City near the Suncor Refinery. “Our communities are being traumatized [by the state] asking more and more for our experience and our testimonies. When we delay on implementation, we're really delaying on equity. And in a climate crisis, that means people will die."

Those deadly consequences are what she and others who spoke before the Energy and Carbon Management Commission (ECMC) this week hope to avoid.

The ECMC held the public comment hearings as part of its process to create new rules on how to study and address “cumulative impacts” from oil and gas operations on health and the environment.

Last summer, Colorado passed a law requiring the ECMC to create those rules by next April.

This puts a firm deadline on a process that Millard-Chacon said has been dragged out for years, despite several other state laws intended to shift the ECMC’s focus to protecting public welfare.

“When we're talking about cumulative impacts, we're talking about the air quality, the land quality, the water quality, and the people. Everything is interconnected,” Millard-Chacon said.

Renée Millard-Chacon
Renée Millard-Chacon is a long-time environmental justice activist who says Colorado has the data on oil and gas industry impacts and needs to act now.

In recent years, the ECMC has gathered hundreds of public comments on cumulative impacts.

But Millard-Chacon worries the state is ignoring those testimonies and prioritizing profits from industry.

“I can't make somebody see my humanity if all you care about is money,” she said. “I understand where the economic fear comes from on state and federal agencies’ level. But what they're not understanding is, you cannot drink money.”

In the hearings this week, representatives of the oil and gas industry, such as the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and American Petroleum, as well as companies like Chevron and Oxy, submitted comments suggesting how the state should define cumulative impacts and urging the commission to maintain much of its existing framework.

Community members and environmental groups reiterated their concerns, and hopes, for action. Many called on the ECMC to consider health and environmental effects before approving permits, and consider revoking permits when harms are identified.

That includes consideration of disproportionately impacted communities, like the neighborhoods near the Suncor Refinery in Commerce City where Millard-Chacon lives and serves on the city council.

“It's not a partisan issue to address environmental justice,” Millard-Chacon said. "This is known data... And it's been out for a long enough time that when we're asking you to act, and you find another reason to delay, you're not doing your job,” she said of the commission.

Millard-Chacon said that as a mixed Indigenous Chicana and Filipina living in an impacted community, she’s had no choice but to carry on the work of her ancestors to fight for environmental justice. But she hopes more Coloradans will get involved.

“Everybody needs to get involved at this point,” she said. “Community is a stakeholder just as much as industry and we're tired. We're tired of dying, we're tired of being traumatized. We're legitimately tired of being ignored. But we're not going to go away because we live here. We do not want to see our future generations having to do this fight.”

Colorado creating new rules to address oil and gas impacts on health and environment

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