Colorado’s clean building standards are critical to clean air • Colorado Newsline
Colorado’s clean building standards are critical to clean air • Colorado Newsline

The American Lung Association’s latest State of the Air report provides a sobering assessment of Colorado’s air pollution crisis. Eleven counties in the state, including Denver, received failing grades due to dangerous ozone levels. This stark reminder underscores the urgent need to address our alarming air quality problems.

While we know that oil and gas production itself is the single biggest contributor to our air quality problem, Colorado’s largest buildings are a little-known culprit of this health-damaging pollution. Many of these buildings have inefficient and outdated gas heating systems that emit toxic, ozone-forming emissions into the outdoor air, burdening multifamily residents with poor indoor air quality and high energy bills. These pollutants are linked to worse health outcomes ranging from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases to negative effects on reproductive and cognitive health – not to mention the potential to shorten and degrade quality of life.

Marginalized communities continue to face the most severe health consequences of these toxic emissions because they live in close proximity to such industrial areas and large buildings with outdated heating and cooling systems. In addition, large buildings are also a major source of climate pollution, responsible for 20% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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Several years ago, the City of Denver formed a policy task force to address building pollution once and for all, bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders to develop effective policy.

From day one, the real estate sector, energy experts, labor unions, workforce development groups, affordable housing advocates, and utility representatives worked together to develop a coherent policy that would improve the energy efficiency of buildings across the city and shift away from fossil fuel use in buildings. Ultimately, they unanimously agreed on a comprehensive building performance standard, which in turn was unanimously adopted by the Denver City Council. In particular, the well-known commercial real estate association NAIOP Colorado participated in the working group that developed the BPS and actively advocated for it before the City Council.

Since then, the city has diligently implemented the standard as recommended by the task force and has even increased support from homeowners through additional funding and assistance for buildings with inadequate amenities, grants for heating system upgrades, and more.

There is too much at stake for this cynical attack on our health to succeed.

Despite this joint effort and broad support, wealthy real estate and landlord groups have since withdrawn their support and filed suit against the City and County of Denver to strike down these much-needed standards. The plaintiffs, including NAIOP Colorado, the Colorado Apartment Association, and the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, are attempting to use an unrelated 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on natural gas pipeline siting to strike down these standards, even though the Denver ordinance is unrelated to the pipeline ruling. This lawsuit fails to consider the public health impacts and ignores that these standards will help reduce childhood asthma, premature births, and exposure to carcinogens.

It would be a betrayal of the public interest to roll back a policy so desperately needed to ensure clean air across Colorado. Compliance with the standard is more than doable for Colorado building owners. Rather than requiring buildings to replace functioning HVAC systems, as the lawsuit alleges, building owners are encouraged to pursue various paths to gradually reduce pollution over time. The growing number of new and retrofitted large buildings demonstrates that energy efficiency—and even “net zero” performance—is not only possible, but affordable and beneficial.

Not only would this lawsuit hinder Denver’s progress in protecting the health of our citizens, but it also targets standards the state has adopted to reflect our city’s innovative approach. The statewide standards are designed to achieve a 7% reduction in emissions from large buildings by 2026 and 20% by 2030 – substantial emissions reductions that will help our state meet its climate commitments and clean up our dirty air.

The stakes are too high for this cynical attack on our health to succeed. Coloradans deserve to live in communities with healthy air quality and affordable energy costs. These actions will help us achieve that goal.

By Everly