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Colorado Springs Utilities seeks sanctions against clean air advocate

November 30, 2016 Updated: December 1, 2016 at 8:40 am
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The Martin Drake power plant just southwest of downtown Colorado Springs Thursday, January 24, 2013. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Colorado Springs Utilities is seeking attorneys' fees and sanctions against Monument attorney Leslie Weise as she continues her quest to get an emissions report released.

Weise wants the public to see a sulfur dioxide report by AECOM Technical Services Inc., contracted by Utilities in December 2013 to help with air-quality assessments.

An El Paso County district judge refused to release the report, so Weise took her case to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which inadvertently sent her the report last month.

She alerted the court to the mishap and returned the report without keeping any copies, as the court instructed.

But she told The Gazette that the report's Exhibit D showed violations in levels of SO2 emissions from the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant.

Weise is asking the Court of Appeals to release that exhibit to serve the public welfare, saying it contained no attorney-client privilege - the reason Utilities cited for keeping it under wraps.

Instead, Utilities filed a motion seeking sanctions and attorneys' fees.

Utilities would not comment on the ongoing court case, said spokeswoman Amy Trinidad.

Weise, however, expressed outrage at the response from Utilities.

"The City of Colorado Springs has now been caught knowingly concealing air quality violations from the public, and instead of responsibly releasing the data to their rightful owner - the residents who breathe this air - it reacts in contemptuous fashion by insisting that the Court of Appeals impose punitive sanctions on me," Weise said Tuesday.

The report "belongs to the public, and it directly affects the public in a health-and-safety kind of way."

The issue is important because if the plant violated SO2 standards, state and local officials would have to detail steps to control those emissions in a new state plan given to the EPA within 18 months.

Further, Drake would have to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standard within five years and undergo monitoring for 20 years.

As it stands, Drake last year was rated "unclassifiable" by the state Air Quality Control Commission and later by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

That gives Utilities "extra time to acquire more data to better analyze compliance with the SO2 standard," the AQCC said.

Utilities had argued that three years' worth of emissions data weren't available to prove whether the plant was in compliance.

Clean air advocates disputed that claim, but the AQCC cited conflicting data from both sides in deeming Drake "unclassifiable."

"The division does not entirely dispute that there may be violations of the maximum (standard)," said Lisa Devore, of the Air Pollution Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

"Modeling shows non-attainment, but historic monitoring shows attainment. They're showing two different things, so we need to classify it as non-classifiable."

Contact Billie Stanton-Anleu: 636-0371

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