by Sam Killmeyer

350 Northern Colorado (350NoCo) was awarded half a million dollars through an EPA grant to fund an air quality monitoring program in Greeley. The grant is the largest in 350 Colorado’s history and will be used to support a mobile air quality monitoring system that will move between two public schools, Bella Romero Academy and Tointon Academy, with nearby fracking wells. Bella Romero has 24 fracking wells 1,360 feet from the school, and Tointon Academy, which will open in August 2023, is being built 360 feet from 30 active fracking wells.

Jenna Parker, 350 NoCo Leadership Council Member and grant writer says of the award:

“I cried when I heard we received the grant because finally we can do something to fight the heinous injustice that occurred when a fracking well was built next to Bella Romero school.” 

Along with the air quality monitoring devices, a website with real-time air quality data will be available to the public, and educational sessions with a key partner organization GreenLatinos will be held in both English and Spanish to inform the community about the program as well as how to use the website to see if the air quality is safe for children. The project is designed to empower parents in Greeley to protect their children from air pollution, as well as to provide comprehensive data to support advocating for oil and gas regulation. 

The grant is a big win for climate justice in Northern Colorado and will provide financial support to activists who have been fighting fracking near Bella Romero since the state issued a permit for Extraction Oil and Gas to drill back in 2017. Initially, the wells were to be placed near Frontier Academy, a majority-white school. After pushback from parents, the drilling site was moved to Bella Romero, where the majority of students are Latinx. The situation at Bella Romero is a clear case of environmental racism, and over the years, the fight has included a lawsuit brought by the NAACP, protests, and more. 

Community member and 350 board member Patricia Garcia-Nelson has been a leader in the fight to shut down the oil and gas wells near Bella Romero and was instrumental in gathering signatures and letters of support from parents for the grant application. She also connected with two community members who agreed to have the mobile air quality monitors on their private property near the school, since the Greeley-Evans school district rejected an offer from Colorado State University to continue monitoring on school property. 

Grant Will Fill the Gap Left By State Organizations

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) was monitoring the air quality at Bella Romero, but the monitoring was discontinued shortly after an unsafe level of benzene was recorded in November 2019. More so, Bella Romero parents were not notified of the spike until three weeks after it occurred, much too late to do anything to protect their children. The website that will accompany the monitoring devices in the new grant project will provide real-time data, giving community members the ability to know what is in the air they, and their children, are breathing.

Along with late reporting, the CDPHE also originally reported the benzene spike at 10.2 ppb as opposed to the true level of 14.7 ppb, both of which are above 9 ppb, the level deemed safe by federal regulators. CDPHE reported this as a data processing error, and the data was not corrected until April 2020. After CDPHE stopped air quality monitoring at Bella Romero, Colorado State University offered to monitor on the school grounds, but school officials rejected the offer. 

In 2021, the Greeley-Evans school district accepted a $100,000 grant from Chevron to create a pre-engineering program. The program will support the Tointon Academy of Pre-Engineering, which will open in August 2023, and will be the second site for the mobile air quality monitoring device. Though school district officials deny that the oil and gas industry had any influence on their decision to reject the offer from CSU to place air quality monitors at Bella Romera, the industry plays an outsized role in the community.

The 350 NoCo grant-funded project will fill the gap left by the CDPHE and the Greeley-Evans school district by monitoring air quality on private properties near the schools. The air quality monitoring and website will be completed by Boulder AIR, which has several current air quality monitoring projects across the front range as well as a comprehensive interactive data analysis tool.

Riley Ruff, 350 Northern Colorado Coordinator says of the grant and the opportunity to partner with local organizations to implement it in the coming months, 

“When we started the application process, our entire team received hesitancy and doubt from those around us. I could not be more grateful to have a team that continued working and persevering through a couple stressful months to make this a reality. I truly work with the most amazing people, and I can’t wait to get started on monitoring!” 

Why Greeley?

Greeley is the largest city in Weld County, which is the largest producer of oil and gas in the state of Colorado. Weld County also has the highest number of wells of any county in the entire country, with 17,815 active wells

Many community members in Greeley and Weld County work in the oil and gas industry, and as can be seen by the failures of CDPHE and the Greeley-Evans school district to monitor air quality in Bella Romero, the industry also has significant influence in our state. 

As we transition from fossil fuels and begin to build safer communities, we must help people who work in oil and gas transition to good jobs that pay a living wage. Oil and gas jobs pay well, but are dangerous and often contract jobs that end after a well is drilled. 

Many people in Greeley are in positions that make it difficult to speak out against fracking even if they wanted to, because they are undocumented or their lives depend on income from oil and gas. 350 Colorado is committed to fighting for a just transition from fossil fuels, which means taking power back from big polluters and centering communities, like parents of students in Greeley, and fighting to create good jobs in green energy that don’t leave people behind.

This grant is a win for climate justice and will help empower frontline community members!

Nationwide EPA Grant Program

Along with 350 Northern Colorado grant, the EPA awarded more than $2.9 million for seven community air pollution monitoring projects in Colorado. The grants were part of 132 total air monitoring projects across 37 states that were $53.4 million of the Inflation Reduction Act and American Rescue Plan.

Support Efforts to Build a Fossil-Free Future!

Burning fossil fuels directly contributes to the climate crisis, and we need to transition to 100 percent clean energy to ensure a livable future for all. is organizing around the world to end the use of fossil fuels and secure a just transition to renewable energy. There’s a place for everyone in our movement and many different ways to contribute! Here are just a few: