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Report: No cover-ups at Colorado air-pollution division

September 24, 2021 GMT

DENVER (AP) — Whistleblower allegations that the state health department’s air pollution division interfered with staff efforts to properly enforce federal air quality standards are unsubstantiated, according to an independent report released Friday by the Colorado attorney general’s office.

The Colorado Department of Law, which is led by Attorney General Phil Weiser, hired the independent investigator after a complaint was filed with the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of inspector general in March.

Three whistleblowers alleged that dozens of air pollution permits were issued unlawfully by the health department’s Air Pollution Control Division to companies, and that at least one whistleblower was asked to falsify data to get pollution estimates under permitted limits.

They also alleged that health department division leaders ignored EPA regulations on modeling and permitting short-term pollutants from important Colorado industries — including mines, asphalt plants and oil and gas gathering sites. They said the permits were part of a larger problem of state officials allegedly catering to industry.

The Denver Post reports that the findings released Friday didn’t substantiate the claims of fraud and suppression.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Air Pollution Control Division asked for the probe, which was conducted by Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP, a legal firm. A independent investigator was needed because the attorney general would represent the health department and the governor in any future action.

The report did find that state efforts to model minor pollution sources for permitting purposes are sometimes hampered by a lack of specific EPA guidance. Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the health department’s executive director, said in a statement that the department will pursue ways to improve that modelling.

EPA officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from The Post.