Oil rig near pristine pastures in western Garfield County, Colorado

State Environmental Justice Task Force draft process draws concerns from Garfield County

Sept. 22, 2022

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – Garfield County has submitted comments and recommendations to the State of Colorado’s nascent Environmental Justice Action Task Force (EJATF), which was formed to address pollution in disproportionately impacted communities. The county supports the goals of the task force but expressed concerns about potential impacts the draft recommendations may have on the local economy.

In July 2021, the Environmental Justice Act was signed into law, creating an advisory board, task force, and ombudsman at the state. The EJATF draft recommendations are slated to be finalized this fall and will likely drive future legislation and rulemaking in Colorado.

“Some of these recommendations could shut down oil and gas operations and create more hardship,” said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. “There would be fewer jobs in the communities of Battlement Mesa and Parachute.”

Garfield County shared its concerns about some of the proposed tools and metrics as currently written in draft recommendations. In its comment letter, the county asked that all its provided socioeconomic information be factored in to lessen impacts on western Garfield County and pointed out that the pollution issues described within the draft exist near larger, more dense urban industrial operations, and not in the rural oil and gas productions areas in western Colorado.

The county recommended altering the draft Enviroscreen mapping tool to ensure it will more effectively identify disproportionately impacted communities that should be prioritized for enhanced environmental justice protections during state industrial facility permitting decisions. These failings could negatively impact ranchers and farmers who depend on income from oil and gas development on their properties, as well as reduce critical tax revenues that support local schools and essential social, health, and emergency services in Garfield County.

“Local governments, including Garfield County, have recently strengthened our own protective land-use regulations to ensure natural gas well pads are sited in appropriate locations,” the letter notes. “We conduct our oil-and-gas permitting in partnership with Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which provides a double scrub of potential issues to ensure the needs of our local community are addressed.”

The county wrote that it supports the creation of a state environmental justice coordinator but opposes an entirely new Office of Environmental Justice agency. It also noted that more public outreach is needed in rural western Colorado, and the process must account for the good air quality in Garfield County and the effectiveness of recently strengthened state regulations for oil and gas facilities and related air-emission permitting.

“The legislation that created this process was in response to very real issues with massive industrial operations found in Commerce City and Pueblo but is not particularly relevant to conditions in rural Colorado,” the letter notes. “Garfield County is concerned that some draft recommendations could potentially cause great harm, outweighing potential benefits, rather than aiding western Colorado residents and communities.”

The comment letter was approved by the Board of County Commissioners unanimously, 3-0.