Colorado air pollution initiatives may bring positive change for Summit County

One of Breck Free Ride's electric buses drives north on Park Avenue, which is also Colorado Highway 9, in Breckenridge Sunday, Jan. 16, 2020.
Lindsey Toomer/Summit Daily News Archives

New statewide efforts to reduce air pollution in Colorado will likely have an impact on Summit County, local environment experts say.

On Tuesday, April 12, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took steps to reclassify the Front Range as a severe non-ozone attainment area, according to a Colorado Department of Public Health news release. The reclassification would give Colorado officials the tools and personnel to hold those who contribute the most to pollution accountable.

While Summit County doesn’t fall into the severe classification, that doesn’t mean it’s immune from air pollution. The EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening map shows that Summit County falls in the 95th percentile for ozone pollution nationally.

“We don’t have this visible air pollution, but what this tells me is a lot of the air pollution from the Front Range is making it up to the mountains,” said Jess Hoover, climate action director with the High Country Conservation Center, a local nonprofit dedicated to climate change issues.

Aside from car emissions, Summit County itself isn’t producing much air pollution. In the Front Range, high temperatures mix with dense urban areas, power plants and factories that all pump pollutants into the air, Hoover said. Much like the smoke that is carried over from wildfires in other parts of the state, wind can push that pollution into Summit County’s air.

The reclassification may be a good thing for Summit County’s efforts to reduce air pollution because it will spur action among state leaders.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ 2023 budget and proposed legislative items include a number of initiatives that aim to reduce air pollution throughout the state. For example, the state plans to improve its ability to require major polluters to follow more stringent restrictions, conduct more air pollution monitoring, fund more electric school buses and invest in greener transportation systems statewide.

“All of these things are win-wins,” Hoover said. “A lot of these solutions don’t just help with air quality. They help with our carbon reduction goals, too. It’s really helping the environment and helping public health all at the same time.”

The initiatives mirror some of the work that is already being done in Summit County. The county has committed to being a GoEV County, establishing a goal to have 100% of cars be electric or have zero-emissions by 2050. The county and Breckenridge governments have already purchased electric buses to replace Summit Stage and Breckenridge Free Ride vehicles.

Other initiatives, like the conservation center’s Solarize Summit program, incentivize local home and business owners to move off of the traditional power grid and switch to solar power. Power plants are a major contributor to air pollution and carbon emissions, Hoover said.

Individuals can also take steps in their lives to reduce air pollution. People with the funds to purchase an electric car can make a huge dent in reducing emissions. However, people who can’t afford that can do smaller things like avoiding leaving their car running when it’s cold outside or taking a bus or bike instead of driving to work.

“The transportation initiatives are the thing that will have the most impact,” Hoover said. “That air pollution that is generated here will stay here, and people breathe it here.”


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