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Community, Denver metro area residents feel blindsided, push back against Suncor settlement

Community pushes back against Suncor settlement for air pollution violations
Community pushes back against Suncor settlement for air pollution violations 03:14

Three weeks after the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment fined Suncor Energy for roughly $10.5 million in a settlement agreement to address ongoing concerns with air pollution, community organizations and residents are taking a stand against the outcome.


"I was disgusted honestly," said Renée M. Chacon. "We're exhausted. Honestly, we're disappointed in the state. I'm disappointed in Suncor never wanting to be a good actor."

Chacon is the co-founder of Womxn from the Mountain as well as a resident and council member who has also been working with the EJ Action Task Force to fight back against air pollution at the hands of companies like Suncor.

She, along with other community members, felt blindsided by CDPHE's announcement of a settlement agreement with Suncor earlier this month.

"Even though we were in dialogue with the state and the AGS office and the air pollution control division, we got the actual final piece in writing with very little time to respond," said Ean Thomas Tafoya, State Director for Green Latinos Colorado. "We had less than 24 hours to review many, many, many pages of documents, find the time for six community-based organizations and nonprofits to come together to talk about it and then send in a response."


In a response issued this week to CDPHE, environmental leaders say the settlement continues to let Suncor off the hook because it doesn't start holding Suncor accountable for its fenceline monitoring plan for air pollution detection until December 2024. Also, they argue the plan does not cover the entire boundary of the facility, which creates concerns as to how accurate the air pollution data will be.

"We need this information in order to move forward and understand why communities are facing so much illness," said Tafoya.

Michael Ogletree, the director of the CDPHE air pollution control division, shared a statement in response to community members' concerns:

"These new fenceline monitoring requirements mean local communities surrounding Suncor will have access to more information on air quality than ever before. The Air Pollution Control Division prioritized getting communities the information they need without further delay. We worked hard to achieve the best possible outcome as quickly as possible, and we met with Earthjustice several times throughout this process.

The final plan ensures Suncor will install monitors around its perimeter everywhere that's technically, and structurally possible. Although engineering contractors found that a small section of the north side of Brighton Boulevard presents challenges, that will not diminish the benefits this monitoring will provide for the community. 

We're taking a comprehensive approach to holding Suncor accountable and protecting clean air for people who live and work near the facility. We'll continue working on more ways to better understand and reduce Suncor's air pollution, and we welcome community input as we create a path forward."

Suncor Energy has not returned a request for comment as of Thursday evening.

"If our state and our federal government don't stand up, Suncor is going to continue to kill communities through benzine hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide. That's what's been happening, and it's been generations before me that have been fighting it," said Chacon. "It's disgusting that it'll have to be generations after me still saying that Suncor is an untouchable giant that steps on us every day with the state watching by."

Despite the frustration with this latest settlement, Chacon and other environmental groups remain hopeful for some accountability in the future. Three newly introduced legislations on air quality improvement may finally hold the oil and gas industry accountable. One such bill would boost enforcement for entities like Suncor that are considered repeat violators and make it harder to negotiate settlements with the state.

"I want to be able to say that we can finally address pollution with the legal legislative backing that we need and the enforceable protections of funding that can help build local capacity to work with the state, not to work against each other," said Chacon. "And make agencies have to learn what cumulative impacts are, [and] learn what disproportionately impacted communities are."

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