January 6, 2017
CONTACT: Jacquie Ostrom, 719-238-1993
Judicial Panel Considering if Criminal Sanctions Should be Imposed Against Local Mom Who Learned of Colorado Springs Utilities’ Air Quality Violations
Evidentiary hearing set for February 13 to determine if whisteblower should receive sanctions and/or fines
Denver, CO – Today Monument resident Leslie Weise was required to appear in the Colorado Court of Appeals in Denver to determine if her efforts to seek truth and transparency regarding a damning air quality report that Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) has prevented the public from seeing will be met with sanctions and fines from the Court. Weise was inadvertently given access to the secret report after she filed a petition in District Court for release of the report under the Colorado Open Records Act. Colorado Springs Utilities has requested that the Court of Appeals punish Weise for speaking about air quality violations that the report revealed.
A three-judge panel decided that an evidentiary hearing will be held on Feb. 13th. Colorado Chief Judge Alan M. Loeb said today that the evidentiary hearing, which will be conducted by retired Court of Appeals Senior Judge Jose D.L. Marquez, is being scheduled in order to bring forth additional information to determine if Ms. Weise will be sanctioned, fined or event jailed for six months under a contempt citation sought by Colorado Springs Utilities and the city.
More than 1,400 Coloradans signed a petition and over 45 business and community leaders signed a group letter delivered last month to Colorado Springs Utilities Board asking them to release the air quality report showing non-compliance of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions and drop their threat of sanctions, fines and imprisonment against Leslie Weise. Dozens of community members protested outside the Utility Board meeting last month and 15 residents spoke during the public comment period of the meeting, calling for transparency and dropping charges against Weise. A separate letter was sent by the City of Manitou Springs Mayor and City Council expressing their concerns over the air quality impacts to their community located just west of the Martin Drake Plant.
Nevertheless, CSU and the Utility Board appeared unmoved and are proceeding with their legal force to silence and punish Ms. Weise. CSU’s CEO Jerry Forte continues to claim that SO2 emissions from the coal fired Martin Drake Power Plant have been in regulatory compliance despite all of the multiple professionally-completed air models revealing dangerously high spikes in SO2 along the foothills of the Pikes Peak region. The EPA designated the region “unclassifiable” for the SO2 standard for safe levels of air quality. Nearly 300,000 people and 120,000 children live within a five mile radius of the Martin Drake Plant.
The combination of CSU withholding the air quality report from the public and the media and CSU filing for sanctions and fines against Weise has compelled many citizens to question the management and operations of their municipally-owned Utility and increasingly consider its governing Board as a “schoolyard bully”. Many supporters of Weise’s efforts attended the court proceedings Friday, in what they regard a David vs. Goliath fight, with the City of Colorado Springs trying to silence a brave, single mother concerned for the public and the safety of her son attending elementary school near the Martin Drake Plant.
Residents and local leaders are demanding transparency via the release of air quality reports from Colorado Springs Utilities and dropping legal action against Leslie Weise for bringing air quality violations to the light of day. Local mother Amy Gray, a Colorado Springs resident and local 350 Colorado Springs member who started the 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. She delivered it to the Council at the Utilities Board meeting last month.
Gray said, “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. As a parent this issue hits home – I too have child who attends a charter school beneath the plume of Martin Drake. Where is the transparency? If we are breathing polluted air shouldn’t we know? 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.”
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) has been found by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to cause severe health impacts in concentrations as low as 75 parts per billion. Exposure to SO2 for as little as five minutes can cause respiratory distress, increased asthma symptoms, and aggravate heart disease; impacts are felt most acutely by children, the elderly, and asthmatics.
While the air quality report (created by AECOM under contract from CSU) applies only to SO2 concentrations, many local residents are concerned about other by-products of burning coal, some of which can cause cancer, birth defects and respiratory ailments, and are pushing for Colorado Springs Utilities to transition to clean renewable power sources, which are now at cost-parity or in some cases cheaper than fossil fuel energy.
“We all have a stake in the air we breathe,” said local resident Elizabeth Frey. “We must move beyond old, polluting coal power plants to clean renewable power sources, which will immediately benefit all of us.”
Read more about the coverage in the Denver Post here.