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City must address environmental issues with Martin Drake plant

By: Rachel Stovall
December 8, 2017 Updated: December 8, 2017 at 4:25 am
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I would like to talk about pollution.

Notice - I did not say that I wanted to talk about global warming. So let's not get sidetracked. I do not wish to debate whether global warming is a theory or fact.

I want to talk about pollution in the short term specifically the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment. I would like us to consider the effects of putting unhealthy substances in our air locally. Pollution is not a partisan issue. It is a public safety issue.

Last month, the Martin Drake power plant received a designation of "unclassifiable" by the Air Quality Control Commission of our state's Department of Public Health and Environment.

What the commission looked at was the emission of sulfur dioxide by the plant. According to their rules, operations that emit large amounts of sulfur dioxide must prove that the source of the pollutant emits 75 parts per billion or less on average, every hour.

Anything above that level of emissions is classified as unsafe. The report from the Colorado Springs did not contain enough data to receive the "clean" designation.

Exposure to sulfur dioxide (SO2) can contribute to heart and respiratory problems. And we have witnessed local citizens who are experiencing those affects testify about them. For some asthma suffers who live near the plant, this is literally a life or death issue.

I'm mad, but I won't be out protesting in the street. Like many, I am not entirely familiar with the global warming concepts and long term projections of what may be happening to the planet. In truth, I rarely think about the environment.

But like you, I think that public safety is important. We are not Flint, Mich. Unfortunately like them, we have polluted our city in a way that is being felt. Unlike Flint, we will own our behavior, and correct it.

We say that we are a better city than those east coast urban centers. We brag about our low crime, high employment and beautiful environment. We dare to call ourselves a City Beautiful.

So Colorado Springs, we'd better get up and prove that we are who we say we are.

For the first time ever, I participated in a telephone town hall about our local environment. The town hall was sponsored by Colorado Springs Utilities. Over 1,500 participants were brought into a meeting with city council and officials from the utility company. A survey was built into the meeting process and participants could give opinions by phone. I gladly gave my opinion and listened to the entire meeting.

Citizen questioners hit hard.

It was obvious that those asking the questions had studied the problem. At times, the council members and utility people were a little beleaguered but they answered the questions instead of trying to shut down those asking the questions.

So what now?

It has been reported that the plant has been outfitted with a system of "scrubbers" designed to reduce the emissions from the plant. That is a good start toward solving this problem. However, the data presented to the Air Quality Control Commission did not show the improvement from the scrubbers yet. We are supposed to be in compliance by the end of 2017. I hope that we are. We can't be playing around with public health.

There is a Colorado Springs Utilities Board meeting on Dec. 18 at 1 p.m. The address is 121 S. Tejon St. in the Blue River Board Room (on the fifth floor of the south tower in the Plaza of the Rockies). All board meetings of Utilities are open to the public.

Attend. It may be your first time going to a utilities meeting. Let this first CSU interaction be your part in keeping our citizens safe. That is a balanced and non-partisan purpose.

For those who have time constraints, I encourage you to connect with Colorado Springs Utilities by phone 719-448-4848, twitter @CS Utilities, or Facebook. Speak your heart regarding this issue.

Let your first foray into environmental politics count.

Some of our local citizens are counting on your help.

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Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Rachel is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.

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