Air permit that was issued by state gets vacated
Judge finds application for tanker-truck repair company was not properly vetted
A district judge in Adams County threw out a tanker-truck repair company’s state-issued air permit after two environmental groups argued it had been granted by Colorado regulators without a scientific review to find out just how much pollution would be emitted.
The Center for Biological Diversity and North Range Concerned Citizens in November filed a lawsuit over the air permit issued to Polar Service Centers in Commerce City. On Thursday, Judge Teri Lynn Vasquez agreed the permit application was not properly vetted and vacated the permit, according to an order filed in Adams County District Court.
Robert Ukeiley, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the permit caught his organization’s eye after it was granted in October because of the company’s location near residential housing and a middle school in a neighborhood that already suffers through a disproportionate amount of air pollution.
Ukeiley said his group believed Polar Service Centers’ emissions would violate National Ambient Air Quality Standards by releasing volatile organic compounds, benzene and nitrous oxide into the air.
“We know there are problems in the process the state uses, which historically has been a rubber stamp,” Ukeiley said of the state Air Pollution Control Division’s permitting system.
To Ukeiley’s knowledge, it is the first time a judge has ordered the state to vacate an air permit.
Polar Service Centers, which provides maintenance and inspections for tanker trucks that haul petroleum
products, wanted to use a flare to burn off vapors captured inside the trucks’ tanks before its employees worked on them. But the Air Pollution Control Division issued the permit without performing the correct modeling to determine exactly how much pollution would be released and what its impact on the community would be, according to the lawsuit.
“Rather, all the Division used to make the decision was one employee spending 10 minutes to come to the conclusion that he did not ‘feel’ like there would be any National Ambient Air Quality Standard violations,” the lawsuit stated.
The division ultimately joined the plaintiffs in asking the judge to vacate the permit, Ukeiley said.
The Air Pollution Control Division, which is under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, did not respond to The Denver Post’s request for comment by a 4 p.m. Monday deadline.
Colorado’s Front Range has been in violation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality standards for 16 years because of intense ozone pollution. Polar Service Centers’ air permit would have contributed to ground-level ozone pollution, or smog, which causes breathing problems for people, especially older people and children.
Polar Service Centers is located on East 74th Avenue in Commerce City, just across the street from residential housing and about three blocks from Adams City Middle School.
The proximity to the school concerned the Center for Biological Diversity and North Range Concerned Citizens because children’s lungs are not fully developed and ozone pollution can damage them, Ukeiley said.
“It’s important to address the danger when kids are getting hammered with pollution,” he said.
It’s unclear what Polar Service Centers, which recently merged with a company named Quala, is doing now that its permit has been denied. The Commerce City service center’s manager and a corporate spokesperson did not return messages left by The Post.
It’s possible the company is airing out tankers without the flare and releasing the pollutants anyway, Ukeiley said. But he hopes it is considering other technologies that allow workers to clean the tanks while not polluting the community.
“There are better solutions,” he said.
Ukeiley hopes the judge’s decision sends a message to the Air Pollution Control Division to do better.
“The division needs to spend the time and effort to make fact-based decisions,” Ukeiley said. “However, the fact that they agreed to ask the judge to vacate it may — and I’ll emphasize ‘may’ — indicate the division is turning a corner and they’re not just going to rubber-stamp things.”