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Colorado Springs group to appeal EPA's OK on Martin Drake sulfur dioxide emissions

September 12, 2016 Updated: September 12, 2016 at 6:07 pm
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The stacks of the Martin Drake Plant emit steam, but stand in stark contrast to the majestic mountains that are the backdrop for Colorado Springs. Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

Colorado Springs area residents have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., challenging the "unclassifiable" label given to sulfur dioxide emissions from the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant.

The three plaintiffs are demanding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revisit its determination this July that data were insufficient to measure air quality around Drake.

Independent studies using EPA's computer model showed severe violations of the sulfur dioxide (SO2) standard, as did weather data from the nearby Colorado Springs Airport, contend plaintiffs Sam Masias, Jacquie Ostrom and Jim Riggins.

The EPA ruling was based on a recommendation by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which cited "disparate monitoring and modeling information."

CDPHE wrote, "Historical ambient monitoring in the Colorado Springs metropolitan area and current ambient SO2 monitoring near the Drake Power Plant show that the 1-hour SO2 NAAQS (National Ambient Air Quality Standards) has not been violated."

Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman Amy Trinidad said, "We support CDPHE in its efforts to gather additional information to determine attainment for Colorado Springs by: announcing the shutdown of Drake Unit 5 by the end of 2016 and supporting the collection of meteorology data to be used to evaluate ongoing air quality monitoring or used to model air quality.

"Over the last few decades we have dramatically reduced SO2 emissions from both (of) our coal-fired power plants and are projecting even further decreases with the improvements we are making now to comply with Colorado's Regional Haze Rule by installing SO2 scrubbers."

The classification means Utilities need not address SO2 emissions, said Masias and plaintiffs' attorney Robert Ukeiley.

"They don't have to do anything," Masias said. "Once they get that designation, it's basically for life. If the Neumann System (of scrubbers) doesn't work, doesn't meet the standard, they don't have to do anything.

"I'm really proud to be a part of this effort."

Coal-fired power plants are a leading source of sulfur dioxide in the U.S., reports the American Lung Association.

"Those of us already affected by the pollution from this power plant don't have the luxury of waiting when air quality around it has already been shown to be in violation of federal health-based standards," said Ostrom, an asthmatic and former member of a Citizens Advisory Group for Utilities.

Even short-term exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide can be life-threatening, reports the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

"Long-term exposure to persistent levels of sulfur dioxide can also affect your health," the ATSDR reports. "Additionally, exercising asthmatics are sensitive to the respiratory effects of low concentrations (0.25 parts per million) of sulfur dioxide."

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Billie Stanton Anleu: 636-0371 Twitter: @stantonanleu

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