Activists Push Polis To Shut Down Infrastructure Construction, Resource Production Amidst COVID-19
Progressive anti-oil and gas activists are pushing the Democratic governor of Colorado to shut down priority transportation projects and have stepped up their calls for halting resources production during the COVID-19 crisis, citing a recent health study and lack of enforcement of regulations.
The groups have targeted Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, calling for him to freeze construction on a key infrastructure project on Colorado’s I-70 through Denver, and step up regulations that would end oil and gas production, citing the ongoing health crisis as an emergency.
“A coalition of community organizations and elected officials call on Gov. Jared Polis to temporarily suspend construction activity on I-70 Central between I-25 and Colorado Blvd. until the statewide shelter-in-place order is lifted due to the growing evidence that small particle pollution is linked to greater morbidity from COVID-19,” wrote Ean Tafoya and Lloyd Burton on April 10.
Tafoya, co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum and Burton, of the Colorado Sierra Club wrote their “Urgent Request for a Temporary Suspension of Construction Activity” citing as evidence “A nationwide study just published by Harvard University [that] found that exposure to air pollution increases the risk of dying from COVID-19 by 15%.”
That study, published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has come under criticism by Environmental Protection Agency’s science advisory board, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. It has not yet been peer reviewed.
“To me, this whole thing is a bogus piece of analysis,” said Tony Cox, who chairs CASAC. “It was rushed out without being properly vetted. It’s technically unsound. It has sensational policy implications, none of which are trustworthy.”
“I would have zero confidence in the published results of this study because its interpretation, design, and analysis are fundamentally flawed,” Cox told the Washington Examiner.
The study has also been criticized elsewhere, by Paul Villeneuve, Professor of Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology, CHAIM Research Centre and School of Mathematics and Statistics, Carleton University, and Mark Goldberg, Professor in the Department of Medicine, at McGill University. Both universities are in Canada.
“But here’s the trouble: The study had not been peer-reviewed — it has not been put to the scrutiny of other experts in the field to assess the quality of the research and the validity of the results. When we looked closely at the research, we saw so many shortcomings that we were not convinced of the results,” they wrote last week.
“Our concerns throw the results and conclusions of this study in doubt. It is our view that the findings grossly overestimate risks of COVID-19 mortality from air pollution,” they concluded.
Tafoya and Burton pointed to the study’s conclusions to argue for halting the Denver project. “The I-70 Central Project has increased air pollution in surrounding communities, which compromises the health of residents and makes them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19,” they wrote.
The authors represent groups like the Colorado Latino Forum, Sierra Club, and EarthJustice that have opposed the project for years. Tafoya said that not acting upon the new information while under the Colorado stay-at-home order during COVID-19 allowed “environmental racism” to continue in the area.
Tafoya also helped spearhead the push for a climate tax in the City of Denver last year, citing a “climate emergency” as part of his group Resilient Denver’s push for the initiative. The climate tax effort failed to make the 2019 ballot and City Council efforts also did not succeed, but the measure will be on the 2020 ballot.
A Western Wire investigation of open records earlier this year revealed that the climate tax efforts received considerable internal and external opposition, both within the City Council itself and related staff, but also from several industries within the business community.
Under COVID-19, anti-oil and gas groups have pushed for increased restrictions, both to combat the immediate conditions they believe warrant further action and also to shut down the industry after failing to pass tough restrictions in 2018.
Legislative attempts to wrestle with policy in 2019 led to SB 181, but for groups like Colorado Rising, the measure did not go far enough.
Joe Salazar, a former state representative and now Executive Director of Colorado Rising, targeted fellow Democrat, Polis, and the industry during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order in place in Colorado.
“We know that Polis wants oil and gas operators to drill despite the fact that it’s f****** stupid to do so. We know that Polis is okay with oil and gas drilling near a 55+ community despite the respiratory concerns. We know that Polis couldn’t give an overripe s*** about drilling in communities of color,” Salazar wrote on April 24.
Colorado Rising is disappointed with the implementation of SB 181, calling the subsequent rulemakings “overall unsatisfying” and pushing for additional ballot measures in 2020. The group’s leaders have called for Polis and Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold to be “innovative” and allow online signature gathering during the COVID-19 crisis, when normal signature gathering involving large groups and one-on-one engagements is not only not recommended but precluded by health officials.
Colorado Rising’s Anne Lee Foster called the 2018 10-point loss “a very small margin” and justification for attempting to get another measure on the ballot two years later. The group has submitted six proposed initiatives that are identical to or similar in intent to the Prop 112 measure that failed.
Whether collected digitally or in the traditional manner, the group needs approximately 125,000 valid signatures to get one of the six initiatives placed on November’s ballot.
“This is déjà vu all over again. Last election, Coloradans decisively defeated an energy industry ban that would have shredded private property rights and put working families on the unemployment line. Now, keep-it-in-the ground activists are back, pushing the same extreme measure and a few ‘112 lites,’” Dan Haley, president for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, told Colorado Public Radio in January.