Every time Jessica Goad looks at her 18-month-old daughter Ada, or even with tthe thought of her, she is renewed in her purpose as an environmentalist in Colorado.
“I grew up in Golden and I really want Ada to grow up in the same kind of environment I did but I worry about Ada both in terms of climate change and in terms of air quality,” Goad, said. “I worry about what the environment and what the future holds for her.”
Conservation Colorado, the organization that Goad works for as the Vice President of Programs, is a leader in advocating for the land, water and people of Colorado, and the air that surrounds us.
“In terms of air pollution on a scale of zero to 10, I’d say this is a crisis. This is nine, maybe a ten,” Goad said. “We need to make change. We need to work as a community and work with public policy to make air quality better for everyone.”
“Yes, we’ve made progress on our air quality in Colorado,” Goad continued. “There is not a brown cloud to the same degree from when I was growing up but there remains a number of air quality issues including a form of air pollution known as air toxics that most people may not have any idea about.”
“There are a lot of people who live in a community that’s got 20 sources of air pollution within a couple of miles of their home,” Rep. Chris Kennedy of Lakewood said. “Some of the hot spots that I think about are North Denver neighborhoods like Swansea, Elyria, Globeville, a lot of communities in Adams County, Commerce City in particular is close to the Suncor refinery. Pueblo has dealt with a lot of negative health impacts from the steel giant down there as well as power generation facilities. In Colorado Springs, they’re on a timeline to close the Martin Drake coal-fired power plant (expected to be torn down in December 2022) but I remember as a kid my sister and I would call it the ‘smoke factory’ because of how much it put out in the sky every day.”
“The environmental risks to people’s health are huge,” Kennedy continued. “There’s an elevated cancer risk, elevated asthma risk, birth defects and cognitive disorders. And, the people who live in those communities certainly can’t move.They can barely put food on the table sometimes. And this is nothing new to them.”
“When I started working at Conservation Colorado, it made me open my eyes to how this is really affecting my community, how it’s affecting a lot the Latinx folks,” the organization’s Senior Organizer Jesús Castro said. “There’s a lot of kids that have asthma. In a way, it made me angry but also that anger turned into passion to work with my community and always advocate for them.”
Castro works specifically with residents in Larimer and Weld Counties. “There’s a lot of fracking in Weld County and a lot of those pollutants, they come into Larimer County and that’s a big issue,” Castro said.
Castro is proud his organization is able to make change but it all starts with Conservation Colorado engaging residents and listening to their concerns and helping them voice their concerns.
“It’s beautiful to see when someone goes to testify at a hearing or go to the state capital and speak and use their voice to make change,” Castro said. “I think telling your story is the most powerful thing we have.”
“That is part of our job at Conservation Colorado … to make that connection, to ensure that real people here in Colorado who face very real problems and issues can call their legislators and say, ‘We need you to find solutions to these problems,'” Goad said.
“That’s what representative government is all about,” Rep. Kennedy said. “We’re supposed to be here to advocate for issues that we learn about. Conservation Colorado is a critical player at the state capitol, building relationships with every single member of the Energy and Environment committee, making sure thy have all the facts.”
Conservation Colorado approached Rep. Kennedy about sponsoring House Bill 1244, which passed on the last day of the 2022 legislative session. “It establishes a regulatory program for toxic air pollutants in Colorado which believe it or not, we don’t have,” Rep. Kennedy said. “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates these kinds of toxics to some degree but it’s limited and there’s no monitoring for it in Colorado.
With House Bill 1244, that will stat to change.
“We are going to get the first three monitoring sites up within a couple of years, the next three a couple of years after that,” Rep. Kennedy said. “The sites are going to measure the air for 188 toxic air contaminants to find out if they see health based standards. If they do not, we’re going to see new action from the state health department requiring those industries to put in place new pollution control measures. I think it’s in 2025 when the health department is going to put out the first set of new regulations on industry.”
What are these pollutants? And what does the term ‘air toxics’ mean?
“An air toxic is distinct from greenhouse gases,” Rep. Kennedy explained. “What we’re not talking about are things that warm the planet, things that have a broader impact on the overall climate. We’re talking about things that have a very localized impact. So, it could be benzine which is frequently released by the oil and gas industry. And benzine, you can smell … but a lot of toxics, you’re not going to know about.”
Rep. Kennedy went on to describe a toxic that is emitted from a Lakewood-based medical device manufacturer. It is ethylene oxide, a toxic carcinogenic air pollutant. It has no smell. “I think most people don’t know it’s there,” Rep. Kennedy said.
“I had no idea,” Goad said. “I learned when working on House Bill 1244 that I actually live just a mile from that plant. I work on these issues and I had no idea that I live so close to this polluter. It’s really scary as a mom to realize that there is a threat to your child that you didn’t even know existed. It’s a little bit ground shaking, to be honest.”
“I think everyone wants to have access to clean air,” Castro said. “I think everyone wants to have a healthy life. We need to take action now.”
That is a sentiment shared through Conservation Colorado. “Even though we’ve made amazing progress so far, we have a lot of work to do,” Goad said.
Conservation Colorado is not wasting anytime, growing its network of supporters and pro-conservation candidates, elected officials and policy makers.
“Conservation Colorado is the go-to environmental organization,” Rep. Kennedy said. “Without the people that contribute their time, energy and money to Conservation Colorado, they would just be a policy shop. Now, they would be great, and they would be very helpful, but what really brings the power and brings the energy to the work that Conservation does are the people who get involved.”
That rings true with the organization’s motto which states that Conservation Colorado works at the intersection of people, politics and policy.
Conservation Colorado hired Kyle Dyer Storytelling to produce this video story for its 2022 Rebel with A Cause Fundraising Event. The organization chose as it’s “Rebel with a Cause” honoree, Congressman Joe Neguse.
Kyle Dyer Storytelling also produced short excerpts, 30, 20 and 10 second vignettes of each person we interviewed for this project.