December 19, 2016
To: Colorado Springs Utilities Board and Mayor John Suthers
From: Colorado Organizations, Businesses and Community Leaders
Re: Urging Colorado Springs Utilities to disclose Air Quality Report and withdraw legal action against local resident Leslie Weise seeking report’s public disclosure
Dear Colorado Springs City Council/Utilities Board, CEO Jerry Forte, and Mayor John Suthers,
The undersigned organizations, businesses and community leaders are writing to urge you 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 . We also call on you to withdraw 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.
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 residents of Colorado Springs and the surrounding area have a right to know what they are breathing from this urban power plant.
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 does it state that AECOM was hired to provide legal advice. For attorneys of this publicly owned municipal utility to now assert that this firm of scientists and engineers were hired for legal purposes and claim attorney-client privilege seems an obvious attempt to suppress AECOM’s findings of air pollution violations from the public, despite the relevance of the information to public health and safety.
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.
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.
Amy Gray, Team Co-Leader, 350 Colorado Springs
Micah Parkin, Executive Director, 350 Colorado
Rev. Nelson Bock, Board Member, Colorado Interfaith Power and Light
Rev. Peter Sawtell, Executive Director, Eco-Justice Ministries
John Crandall, Owner, Old Town Bike Shop, Colorado Springs, CO
John Hassebrock, Owner, Brock Communications, Colorado Springs, CO
Nicole Rosa, Owner CEO, Total Math Tutoring, Colorado Springs, CO
Richard Skorman, Former City Councilman, Former Vice Mayor, Owner of Poor Richards Complex Colorado Springs, CO
Jacquie Ostrom, Licensed Professional Counselor, Private Practice Business Owner, Colorado Springs, CO
Wendy Lindsey, Analytical Chemist, Colorado Springs, CO
Eric Lindsey, PhD, Geophysicist, Colorado Springs, CO
Christopher A. Fagnant, President, Qualtek Manufacturing, Colorado Springs, CO
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Youth Director, Earth Guardians
Anne Butterfield, Board President, Clean Energy Action
Marissa Knodel, Climate Campaigner, Friends of the Earth
Tricia Olson, Board President, Colorado Rising
Mark Steele, Director, New Moon Multimedia
Justin Garoutte, Executive Director, Conejos Clean Water
Doug Henderson, Co-Leader, 350 Ft. Collins
Betty Harris, Organizer, 350 South Metro Denver
Barbara Mills-Bria, President, and Phillip Doe, Environmental Director, Be The Change-USA
Elisabeth Gick, Co-Leader, 350 Boulder County
Sonia Skakich-Scrima, Founder, What the Frack?! Arapahoe
Christie Greene, Co-Leader, 350 Mt Evans
Andy Bardwell, Ph.D., CEO, OptiMiser LLC
Christine Canaly, Director, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council
Jessica Stone Troy, Organizer, North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy
Kevin Nelson, Team Co-Leader, 350 Denver
Michael Saul, Senior Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity
Jim and Diane Schrack, Co-Founders, The Question Alliance
Paddy McClelland, Director, Wall of Women Colorado
Bob and Kay Parker, Chair and Secretary/Treasurer, 350 Central Colorado
Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director, WildEarth Guardians
Emma Bray, Founder, Kids Against Fracking
Joellen Raderstorf, Founder, Climate Culture Collaborative
Sharon Simmons, Climate Change Environmental Committee, Business & Professional Women of Boulder
Shelley Silbert, Executive Director, Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Zuza Bohley, Americas Latino Eco Festival, Education Director, and Americas for Conservation + Arts, Deputy Director
Carl Erickson, Chair, Weld Air and Water
Kevin Cross, Fort Collins Sustainability Group Steering Committee, Fort Collins Community Action Network
Hollis Beth Berendt, Unitarian Universalist Church of Greeley, Past President, and Greeley Interfaith Association, Past President
Jeffrey A. Roberts, Executive Director, Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition
Dr. Elizabeth House
Barbara Donachy, MPH
Sister Elizabeth Fuhr