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GUEST COLUMN: Governor should step in to improve air quality

By: Jen Clanahan
May 14, 2017 Updated: May 19, 2017 at 7:59 am
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The state legislature wrapped up this week, with a whimper. Lawmakers failed to deal with something so basic that it's hard to believe our state leaders are ignoring it - the air we breathe.

The American Lung Association just released their latest State of the Air report. Each year they compile official air quality data from around the country which they put in perspective for those of us who don't understand what all those numbers mean. They boil it down to a simple letter grade like our kids bring home on their report cards. Alarmingly, we're failing.

Nine counties in Colorado received an 'F' including right here in El Paso county. Two others received a 'D'. That's two more counties that received an 'F' than last year. While there were some minor areas of improvement, it's clear we have a lot of work ahead of us.

Air pollution can cause permanent problems in young children whose lungs are still developing in addition to other serious effects like lung cancer and asthma attacks. As parents, our most important job is to protect our children - but we alone can't change the air.

Legislators couldn't come to agreement and the governor didn't provide the leadership to push through a solution to this problem. There was no clean energy legislation. While an energy efficiency bill passed, and this is good news, it extended programs that are already in place. Since those programs have been in place and we're still failing, we clearly need a bigger, more comprehensive solution to match the extent of the problem.

As parents, if our child brings home a report card with failing grades we don't say that it's OK and ignore it. We would try to understand what went wrong and address the problem. So why aren't our state leaders doing that with our air? And just as I would ask my child what happened, I'm asking the governor: what happened? Why are we failing and what are we going to do to fix the problem?

It's bad enough now, but what's worse is we're heading into summer. The heat of summer exacerbates ozone pollution; almost all our red alert days happen during the summer. Summer should be a time of carefree outdoor play for our kids or when we head to the mountains to explore our state. Unfortunately, air doesn't stay in one place so leaving the metro area doesn't alleviate the situation.

The governor says he's considering a special session. I encourage him to call one. That would give them a chance to fully fund the Colorado Energy Office and do more to address this issue. Short of that, we need Gov. Hickenlooper to address it. He stood up to tell President Donald Trump to uphold the Paris climate agreement and he has pledged that Colorado should have the cleanest air in the country. Now we need action to match the sentiments.

We call on Gov. John Hickenlooper to take action to protect our children from the dangerous impacts of ozone pollution. He has the authority. Whether it's through executive orders or through a state agency like the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, he must and can act. With such a large portion of our population living in a county with failing air quality we can't sit back and wait for future legislative sessions to try again.

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Jen Clanahan is the 'head mom' of Colorado Moms Know Best, a statewide network of parents concerned about clean air for their kids.

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