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Welcome to our new monthly feature by one of our West Slope Field Organizers, Petrika Peters. In this spot, she’ll feature local citizens’ groups that she is personally involved with, and that help Conservation Colorado’s grassroots efforts, in the Grand Junction area. Enjoy!

A newer, but nonetheless powerful and inspiring, group of concerned citizens in Mesa County is working to protect our air from harmful pollution. They dubbed themselves “Citizens for Clean Air” (CCA) and they are chock full of movers and shakers already making huge impacts for our Grand Valley air quality.

I have had the pleasure of working with this inspiring group for the past year and have seen first hand some of the amazing things they have accomplished in such a short time. Without CCA, Conservation Colorado would not have been able to accomplish much of what we have been pushing for, including landmark air quality rules that protect us from pollution or increased public awareness of the harms of oil and gas pollution.

These motivated citizens are working in innovative ways to make substantial positive change in our community; change that impacts all Coloradans, who, well, breathe. Anyone from the West Slope knows that nearly every winter in the Grand Valley, we are challenged by significant health consequences due to the cold air inversions that hold pollution in.

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The inversion is natural, but the pollution is not.

Last year we experienced a record-breaking 11 days of national air quality standard violations due to high levels of particulates and other known pollutants such as nitrogen oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contained within the inversion. During this time, Mesa County issued “no-burn” announcements on 47 days, another record.

Mt. Garfield rising above the inversion. Credit: Susan Justice, Jan. 16, 2014

Mt. Garfield rising above the inversion. Credit: Susan Justice, Jan. 16, 2014

As a group, CCA recognizes that our air problems are multi-faceted and require the “cleaning up” of many different pollutant sources. Vehicle emissions, agricultural burning, non-EPA certified wood-fired stoves, and industry emissions all contribute to our “brown cloud,” as well as a host of associated health and economic troubles. You see, bad air harms both our health and our quality of life – leading to increased school absences, sick days, medication use, and visits to doctors and emergency rooms; all of which have an economic and personal impact on our community.

Of late, CCA became increasingly concerned about the impact that oil and gas drilling has on our public health. Oil and gas operations spew horrible pollutants into our air.  The production, transportation, and processing life cycle of oil and gas is a major contributor to ground level ozone. Ozone causes a slew of health issues. Some of these include acute eye irritation, chest congestion, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

Air pollution is impacting our crops, the livelihood of farmers, and our tourist economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that, “ground-level ozone causes more damage to plants than all other air pollutants combined.” Ozone levels are already at a level that causes some loss of crop production. Colorado farmers are already enduring a severe drought; reduced harvests due to poor air quality only worsen their diminishing bottom line.

Let’s face it–who wants to visit a valley known for its haze? In order to cultivate our quality of life and sustain our economy, Conservation Colorado and CCA recognize that we MUST fix our air quality problems.

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That’s why CCA is a formal party to the recent Air Quality Control Commission’s (AQCC) rule-making to improve safeguards from oil and gas pollution. The new AQCC protections will have a real impact our local air quality. While oil and gas emissions are not the sole contributor to our brown cloud, there are over 1,000 wells in Mesa County and more on the horizon if the proposed FRAM Whitewater project goes through.

I continue to be inspired by the motivation and active participation of this group of committed citizens. As CCA strives to solve this multi-faceted problem, we know one thing for sure–the Grand Valley simply can’t handle any more air pollution from any source.

This year’s brown cloud settled over the valley in December and despite the constant reminder, inspiration is urgently needed to get local governments and residents to act to improve our air quality.

To learn more or join the efforts of CCA contact Karen Sjoberg at 970-628-4699 or mmagency1@mindspring.com

Your Field Organizer,

Petrika