Mountain States

Colorado Governor Reversed Course On Ozone Waiver But EPA Won’t Follow Suit, Consumers to Face Higher Gas Prices

The Environmental Protection Agency has responded to Gov. Jared Polis’s (D) plea for an ozone waiver that he previously declined, and the news isn’t good for Colorado drivers. The EPA confirmed that Polis’s decision not to seek an ozone nonattainment waiver means that Coloradans will be required to buy reformulated gasoline, which is more expensive, starting next summer.

The saga began three years ago, when Gov. Polis opted not to apply for a background ozone waiver as his predecessor, fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper had done before. Because of wind patterns and topography, wildfires and pollution from as far away as Asia is routinely trapped in the Front Range, leading to elevated ozone levels that aren’t tied to local emissions. The ozone waiver took these foreign emissions into account when determining whether or not Colorado was in compliance with federal regulations.

Gov. Polis’s goal was to spur emissions reductions at home, but, as Energy in Depth has written previously, his decision instead sparked off a federal regulatory process that will impose significant costs on Colorado residents.

Impacts on Consumers? Higher Gas Prices But No Environmental Gain

In a letter, the EPA informed  the governor that under the Clean Air Act, the switch to severe nonattainment status will require the nine counties of the Front Range to switch to reformulated gas to reduce the creation of ozone. This new formulation will be more expensive for drivers, with AAA estimating it’ll increase prices at the pump by 20 to 30 cents per gallon.

These changes would come as drivers are already paying higher prices because of reduced domestic oil production and the war in Ukraine.

In his letter to Gov. Polis, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that the agency would work with Colorado on implementing the standards and gave the state “20 months of lead time to prepare.”

Will Polis Take Responsibility for Gas Tax?

Polis seems now to understand the full extent of his decision to reverse course on former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s request for a waiver.

When news of the nonattainment status first dropped, Polis originally called the decision “good news” because it would allow the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) to oversee more industrial sites, including at 200 oil and gas sites.

But with significant regulatory changes looming, Polis has changed his tune. In mid-September he wrote to the EPA urging them to reconsider the reformulated gas requirement for the Denver metro area. In the letter, Polis called air pollution a “top priority” of his administration but warned that he would consider legal action to avoid the reformulated gas mandate, which he said would bring no environmental benefit.

Gov. Polis wrote:

“I am deeply opposed to the associated requirement that reformulated gasoline (RFG) be deployed within the DM/NFR non-attainment Area. I am hopeful that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will aggressively pursue all means to be a helpful partner in prioritizing air quality over one antiquated, inefficient, and increasingly ineffective tool; reformulated gasoline. The reformulated gasoline requirement would do more harm than good for our air quality and environmental justice goals, and I will continue to pursue any opportunity available, including legal means, to avoid or delay the RFG mandate.” (emphasis)

He made a similar statement to the Regional Air Quality Council, saying that he reserved the right to pursue legal action to avoid the reformulated gas requirement.

In a statement to the Denver Post, a spokesperson for the governor said that he was only trying to save Coloradans money:

“Coloradans can count on Governor Polis to help save them money and to look out for them and their families. We have been clear that Governor Polis and the administration are seeking alternatives because the Governor is committed to helping save people money on everyday items.”

But if that is true, why did Polis decide not to file for the ozone waiver, sparking off the regulatory changes in the first place?

Bottom Line: When Coloradans face higher gas prices at the pump, they should know that this is because of actions by Governor Polis. Worse, as Polis admits, the price increase comes with no environmental gain.

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