Ask any Denver resident stuck in rush-hour
traffic about growth along Colorado's Front Range, and you may
unleash a frustrated tirade. But despite all the new vehicles
idling on the highways, Denver residents are breathing cleaner air
than they were 20 years ago.
In the late 1970s,
Denver violated federal health standards for three out of six major
classes of pollutants, including ozone, carbon monoxide and
particulate matter, or soot. Now, after decades of cleanup efforts,
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to award the city
clean-air status. Denver will be the first major urban region to
achieve the federal redesignation.
"It's been 25
years' worth of work," says Ken Lloyd, executive director of the
Regional Air Quality Council, a state agency. "It didn't happen
overnight; there have been a lot of federal, state and local
Richard Long of the EPA's regional
office credits the recovery to the "aggressive but reasonable
steps" that the city carried out. Denver implemented a stricter
Inspection Maintenance Program for automobiles, switched to
oxygenated fuels, and limited emissions of stationary sources,
including power plants.
But environmentalists say
the victory may be short-lived, especially if the EPA instates
newer, stricter ozone requirements currently paralyzed by a
lawsuit. "If we're not in violation of the stricter standard, we're
close," says John Nielsen, co-director of the Land and Water Fund
of the Rockies. Nielsen and other critics say the city has not
adequately accounted for the increase of certain ozone emissions;
they want tighter regulations to maintain a greater margin of
compliance with the pending standards.