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Colorado Engineer Blasts EPA For Blaming Denver Smog On Wyoming

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Saying Colorado hasn’t done enough to protect its own air quality, a chemical engineer is calling foul on the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency for blaming Wyoming for part of Denver’s smog problem.  

“There is no possible way for EPA to justify forcing Wyoming to take action to reduce ozone in Colorado, when EPA has never required Colorado to take any action to reduce ozone within the state,” Barney Strobel, a retired chemical engineer in Centennial, Colorado, wrote in a letter to Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon.  

EPA Region 8 officials did not respond Thursday morning to voicemails requesting comment.  

The EPA last month announced its intention to launch a federal pollution control plan for Wyoming, due to its estimation that emissions from Wyoming, blown south by its strong winds, contribute about 1% to Denver-area ground ozone.

The EPA’s proposed “Good Neighbor” policy would enable it to further restrict emissions in upwind states like Wyoming due to their projected contribution to smog in states like Colorado.  

Gordon had dispatched a statement of his own in March deriding the policy change and vowing to fight it, although he has not specified how.

Strobel, who worked in air quality for 12 years, said in his letter to Gordon that the EPA has taken an unrealistic leap in blaming Wwyoming for Colorado’s ground ozone.

Colorado’s Air Quality 

The EPA has deemed Colorado’s Denver-Chatfield region a “serious” air quality offender, but is soon to downgrade the area to a “severe” designation, which will bring additional permitting requirements for businesses and higher gas prices to Colorado. 

These gestures, said Strobel, can’t be guaranteed to reduce ozone, because the hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue generated by the fees are not committed to ozone reduction and can be used for any purpose.

Strobel also noted that ozone readings at three Colorado monitors have not changed significantly over 30 years of tracking, except for fluctuations amid wildfires and other events, according to an EPA chart. Strobel called this a sign of the ineffectiveness of the pollution control attempts touted by Colorado so far.  

For example, he said, a 2011 pollution control plan by Colorado contained “only one federally-enforceable program,” which was to reduce emissions from condensate tanks at oil and gas facilities.  

The move didn’t reduce ozone, Strobel said, referencing the chart.  

Yet the EPA’s satisfaction with Colorado’s ineffective pollution control plans, wrote Strobel, makes the agency’s proposed enforcement against Wyoming appear “malicious.”  

“Since ozone has not dropped, even though the state agencies claim that precursors (contributing chemicals) have dropped by more than 43%,” he continued, “it is clear that the state agencies do not have an accurate emissions inventory.”  

Argument For Governor 

Strobel said he also doubts the accuracy of the models underpinning EPA’s focus on upwind states.  

Aiming to equip Gordon for a debate with the EPA, Strobel wrote in his letter that the inaccuracy window in EPA’s projections is about 10 times larger than the value used to incriminate Wyoming on Colorado’s behalf.  

“EPA states that the average difference between the projected values and the actual values is 7.79 ppb (parts per billion of ozone-contributing chemicals),” reads Strobel’s letter to the governor.  

Wyoming’s likely inclusion in the “Good Neighbor” restrictions is due to its projected 0.81 ppb contribution to Colorado’s total ground ozone, which is projected to be 71.7 ppb in 2023.  

“If the model cannot project values with any more accuracy than 7.79 ppb for Chatfield,” wrote Strobel, “it is absurd for EPA to suggest that they can project that 0.81 ppb will come from Wyoming.”  

If Wyoming’s projected contribution had been below 0.7 ppb, the state would not fall under the “Good Neighbor” restrictions.  

“With such poor accuracy,” continued Strobel, “it is also absurd for EPA to claim that they can distinguish between 0.81 ppb and the 0.7 ppb threshold for requiring action.”  

Wyoming Wind 

Strobel said he further doubts the accuracy of the monitor that measures Wyoming’s contribution to Colorado’s ozone problem because other monitors “lined up” north to south of it registered projected contributions from Wyoming totaling half as much.  

“Whether the ozone from Wyoming is supposed to be moving south from Cheyenne or coming from the west over the mountains, at most,” Strobel said, “the concentration of ozone from Wyoming will be the same as at (another monitor) just 14 miles north.” 

The monitor in question is also farther than Wyoming from the other two monitors projecting safer ozone values, Strobel noted.   

“There is no possible way that the concentration of ozone from Wyoming can be 0.46 ppb at (the other two monitors) and then somehow magically increase by 75% to 0.81 ppb south” of there, he wrote.  

Another inaccuracy, Strobel posited, is found in the model’s failure to consider volatile organic compounds from plants, which interact with nitrogen oxides to create ozone and are, he said, three times more plentiful in Colorado than man-made VOC.  

“Since the model does not even consider the most probable ozone reaction, there is no justification for claiming that the model can project contributions from upwind sources with an accuracy of two decimal places,” Strobel added.  

A spokesman for Gordon’s office confirmed on Thursday that the governor has received Strobel’s letter but said he has not yet had a chance to review it personally. 

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EPA Denies Sinclair’s Exemption For Ethanol Content

in Energy/News

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

One of Wyoming’s three oil refineries is among 36 nationally to have its request to be exempted from biofuel blending rules refused.

Documents filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals showed the Sinclair Refinery near Rawlins applied with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an exemption from the rules, but the application was denied April 7.

While the state’s other two refineries, Sinclair Casper Refining Co. and the Wyoming Refining Co., in Newcastle are listed in the court documents with Sinclair Refinery, there is no way to tell if they asked for the exemption.

Oil refineries are required to blend a certain amount of soybean or corn-derived fuel into their gasoline product under the Renewable Fuel Standard administered by the EPA, or, in the alternative, purchase compliance credits.

Small refineries, those processing less than 75,000 barrels of crude oil a day, can claim the biofuel requirements pose a “disproportionate economic hardship” and seek an exemption.

All three of Wyoming’s crude oil refineries meet the production requirements aspects of this waiver. 

The 36 refineries addressed in the EPA’s decision had all asked for exemptions for the 2018 production year. The exemptions were granted in 2019, but in 2020, a federal court adopted much more stringent rules facilities had to meet to qualify. 

One Wyoming refinery, HollyFrontier in Cheyenne, stopped processing crude oil and is transitioning to full biofuel production, a move that led to the layoff of 200 workers in 2020.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, in an opinion piece in “The Hill,” said HollyFrontier’s decision was influenced by the plant’s loss of its exemption to the blending requirement.

“Many small refineries seek these small refinery exemptions annually,” Lummis wrote. “To remain competitive, they have no other choice. The cost of compliance credits is commonly their second-highest production expense, trailing only the cost of crude oil.”

Lummis also spoke on the poor timing of the decision in relation to rising gas prices. She said the compliance credits within the Renewable Fuel Standard program add 30 cents to 50 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline.

Lummis said the EPA has also indicated it will deny all requests for exemptions for production years from 2019 to 2021.

Decisions against the exemptions further limit the ability of American refineries to meet demand for gasoline, said Ryan McConnaughey, director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

“We still see an increase in demand for petroleum products in Wyoming and across the globe,” McConnaughey told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “The recent increases in gas prices show the need for production.”

However, the biofuel and petroleum industries are at odds over the blending rules.

The Renewable Fuels Association, in a statement about the EPA’s decision to deny the exemptions, said the exemptions address past wrongs by refineries, but the EPA’s decision did not do enough to remedy economic problems created by the exemptions in the past.

The RFA also opposed the EPA’s plan to give 31 of the refineries whose exemptions were rejected an alternative to buying compliance credits.

To receive relief, the 31 refiners must resubmit compliance reports for 2018 and report their fuel production for that year and other data.

“EPA is granting this compliance flexibility because the agency has determined that there are extenuating circumstances specific to this set of petitions, including the fact that SRE petitions were previously granted,” the department said in its SRE announcement.

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Cheyenne Air Quality Ranked Best In Country

in Environment/News
Photo Credit: Matthew Idler

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne’s ranking atop an annual “report card” on the nation’s air quality is no surprise to the state’s environmental agency.

Keith Guille, a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, said he was not surprised that the American Lung Association rated Cheyenne as having the nation’s cleanest air.

“Historically, Cheyenne and Casper have been in the top of (the ALA’s report) in recent years,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “In Wyoming, as we all know, we have a lot of clear skies and blue skies and we’re always proud of that.”

Following Cheyenne in the ALA’s annual “State of the Air” report in sixth place was Casper. Both cities won their rankings because of their low year-round pollution created by soot, also called “particle pollution.”

Guille said the state’s sparse population and its restrictions on its own industries has helped keep pollution at a minimum.

“We are big state with a small population and that helps with emissions and whatnot,” he said. “When you look at our oil and gas development, we’ve been really progressive working with the industry and the public to have control over those minor (pollution) sources.”

Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins credited Wyoming’s wind for the city’s high ranking.

“Because of our blustery Wyoming wind, Cheyenne residents are more than happy to lay claim our air quality is superb,” he said in a statement to Cowboy State Daily. “Now we have the data to prove it. I can’t think of anything more vital to a community’s health and vitality than clean air.”

The ranking comes despite the fact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is blaming Wyoming for contributing a little more than 1% to the smog found over Denver.

Guille had no explanation for the apparent disparity.

“You might want to ask the feds on that,” he said.

While the ALA reported much of the rest of the state did well in terms of pollution, it gave Jackson an “F” for its particle pollution.

Jackson Town Administrator Larry Pardee did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Other grades for particle pollution ranged from A in Converse and Sweetwater counties to C in Albany, Fremont, Natrona and Park counties.

In addition, only 11 counties, fewer than half of the state’s 23, had equipment to detect particle pollution that was monitored by the ALA.

The ALA’s report also examined ozone ground pollution and 12 counties received a grade of C or better.

However, Sublette County again received an F for its 16 days of ground ozone levels above recommended standards — 13 days where ozone levels were considered unhealthy for sensitive populations and three days of generally unhealthy conditions .

While other cities around the country had worse rankings for ozone pollution, Sublette County’s is unusual because it appears in a rural area during the winter, Guille said.

He added most of the areas with high ground ozone levels are urban and the biggest problems appear in the summer.

However, he added the state and the area’s oil and gas industry have made progress in recent years in reducing annual ozone levels.

“We’ve been working with the public and industry since 2004 and 2005 to tackle this,” Guille said. “In the last couple of years these numbers have been under the standards, which is good. This year we did not see those high ozone levels.”

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EPA Blames Wyoming For Denver Pollution Despite Contributing 1% Of Smog Emissions

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to swap Wyoming’s emission standards for its own more stringent rules because of Wyoming’s contribution to Denver pollution.

The EPA, in an April 6 report, said Wyoming contributes up to 0.8 parts per billion to the Denver-Chatfield area “smog” — just more than 1%.

As a result, the agency wants to enact its “Good Neighbor” mandates that would allow it to place tougher greenhouse gas restrictions on Wyoming and several other states which contribute 1% or more to ozone pollution in “downwind” states.

The EPA early this month deemed the Denver-Chatfield area a “severe” violator of federal ozone, or smog, standards – a downgrade from its prior status of “serious” violation.  

Ground ozone, a bonding of three oxygen molecules, is considered a pollutant and, according to the EPA, can harm humans and the environment.   

Some of Colorado’s heavy smog, the EPA declared this month, wafted in on Wyoming winds.  

‘Good Neighbor’ Mandates 

The Denver-Chatfield area’s poor grade came just weeks after the EPA in March announced its revival of stringent air quality limitations from 2015.  

The stricter standards also brought back the “Good Neighbor” mandates – an EPA bid to place tougher greenhouse-gas restrictions on Wyoming and several other states. 

Pending a comment period that ends June 6, Wyoming may be required to limit emissions from its power plants and industrial manufacturing sites.  

Coal-fired power plants, trona operations, and natural gas pipelines all were identified by Gov. Mark Gordon as “targets” of the EPA policy.  

California Sends More Smog 

According to 2020 data from an EPA monitoring device located in the Denver-Chatfield area, Wyoming’s wind is projected next year to contribute about 0.81 parts per billion – just over the “Good Neighbor” threshold of 0.7 ppb.  

Colorado’s other two receptors registered about 0.4 parts per billion, or 0.6% of its total smog as Wyoming-made.  

Wyoming’s projected contributions to other states – Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Utah and Connecticut – were negligible in comparison to its influence on Colorado.   

In the same projection, California was expected nearly to double Wyoming’s chemical share of Colorado’s smog by contributing about 3 parts per billion to Colorado.  

California also is expected to export about 40 times Wyoming’s ozone-chemical output nationwide, with 34 ppb total ozone-chemicals export.   

Predictions for 2023 show Colorado making most of its own ozone pollutants, getting just 7% of them from upwind sources.  

Federal, Not State Implementation 

Gov. Mark Gordon in a March statement called the “Good Neighbor” mandate an “attack on state-led approaches” moving “more authority away from the people to Washington, DC.”  

Gordon also said the plan targets Wyoming and other Western energy-producing states, and seeks to penalize their energy industries.  

“It will harm states like Wyoming who meet ozone standards and benefit more populous states that use our energy but do not meet their own standards,” Gordon continued. “EPA’s proposal does not ‘follow the science’ or the law and will unjustly discriminate against Wyoming industries.” 

Gordon said he would work “aggressively” to combat the plan.  

When EPA announced the mandate, it claimed that the restrictions on both problem states and their upwind neighbors could prevent about 1,000 premature deaths and avoid more than 2,000 hospital and emergency room visits, 1.3 million cases of asthma symptoms, and 470,000 school absence days. 

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Biden’s 30 x 30 Initiative Likely Meaningless According To Wyo Public Lands Expert

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming may not need to opt out of an environmental initiative proposed by President Joe Biden as neighboring state Montana has done, according to a public lands expert.

Karen Budd-Falen told Cowboy State Daily that because Biden issued an executive order for his “30×30” conservation initiative, the plan does not have the full force or effect of law, so there is really no way to opt in or out of the proposal.

“The biggest problem with 30×30 is nobody knows what the heck it is,” she said. “You can’t find anybody who can tell you what 30×30 is.”

Biden issued an executive order not long after taking office intended to tackle climate change. With this initiative, he established a national goal to conserve at least 30% of U.S. lands and freshwater and 30% of U.S. oceans areas by 2030.

The initiative is intended to reverse the negative impacts of climate change by protecting more natural areas and to increase access to nature for communities that lack it.

Last week, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced that the state declined to participate in the “30×30” initiative, saying the plan was “long on philosophy and short on detail.”

Gianforte’s administration pointed out last week that to achieve the 30% goal, another 440 million acres would need to be put into conservation, which is nearly five times the size of Montana.

Gov. Mark Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily last week that he had heard no mention of Gordon choosing to not participate in the initiative.

Regardless of whether the initiative can be enforced, Budd-Falen, who is well-versed in multiple land use, said the problem remains the fact that no one truly understands it, including the Biden adminsitration.

“Personally, I’m opposed to turning over any more lands to federal management,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “I think Wyoming citizens do a very good job of managing our lands. I think the idea that we’re going to eliminate all use and not have these federal lands generating revenue is going to bankrupt the state.”

Former U.S. Bureau of Land Management acting Director William Perry Pendley told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the federal government would just be locking up more land with the initiative.

“The way the federal lands have been managed under Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and now Joe Biden, they’ve been managed for a single purpose, rather than multiple use,” Pendley said. “Biden’s administration is talking about some federal designation over public and private land, and we can’t afford that right now. We’re already in a desperate situation because of Biden.”

The federal government currently owns about 48.2% of the land in Wyoming, a little more than 30 million acres.

Pendley said that Gianforte was doing the best thing for the people of Montana by choosing to not participate in the initiative.

“It’s just a Trojan horse for more land lockup,” he said.

Currently, the U.S. Geological Survey reports around 12% of U.S. land is in conservation status. To achieve 30% by 2030, another 440 million acres would need to be put into conservation, an area nearly five times the size of Montana.

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