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Hickenlooper Not Sold On Proposed Ozone Rules, Says Denver At A Disadvantage

DENVER (CBS4) - The U.S. secretary of energy made a visit to Colorado on Monday as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposes another set of rules meant to improve Colorado's air quality, but Gov. John Hickenlooper isn't sold.

Unlike the new Clean Power Plan rolled out last month which deals with greenhouse gas emissions, the new rules deal with ground level ozone -- the pollution that comes out of tailpipes and smokestacks to form the brown cloud over the Denver metro area some days.

U.S. Energy Secretary Earnest Montiz
U.S. Energy Secretary Earnest Montiz in Boulder on Monday (credit: CBS)

As Energy Secretary Earnest Montiz touted the benefits of the Obama administration's new Clean Power Plan in Colorado, controversy grew over the new set of clean air rules dealing with ozone. The latest review has led the EPA to recommend tough new limits on the level of the pollutant that's safe to breathe.

"I'm still very concerned," Hickenlooper said.

Denver Skyline Brown Cloud
The brown cloud over Denver (credit: CBS)

Hickenlooper is among those who are not convinced that lowering the standard is the right move.

"I've heard (from) both sides that there isn't sufficiently clear evidence that this is a significant health hazard," Hickenlooper said. "Now I haven't looked at that yet and our people are still looking at it."

"It's not a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington or political appointees; these are scientists, physicians that comprise a panel that's gathered specifically to give advice to EPA," Dan Grossman with the Environmental Defense Fund said.

Dan Grossman
Dan Grossman with the Environmental Defense Fund (credit: CBS)

Grossman says ozone is a major cause of respiratory illnesses like asthma, and the new limits are meant to protect human health. But Loren Furman with the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry says it comes at a devastating cost to the economy.

"The economic risks are even higher through studies that we've seen versus the health risks," Furman said.

Loren Furman with the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry
Loren Furman with the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry talks with CBS4's Shaun Boyd (credit: CBS)

"To set up a standard where you know you're not going to be able to achieve it, and obviously we're at a unique disadvantage because we're a mile high," Hickenlooper said. "So when you're at 5,000 feet you're ozone challenges are significantly more difficult."

"The old, tired argument that the sky falling when we're talking about environmental protection is time and time again born out to be false," Grossman said. "The truth of the matter is that environmental protection and economic prosperity go hand in hand."

Opponents say most of Colorado -- and maybe as much as half the country -- will be out of compliance under the new standard. Hickenlooper says many counties in Colorado are still struggling to meet the current standard set six years ago.

The White House still needs to approve the change.

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