Air Quality Action Items and Alerts: LOCAL AND STATE CANDIDATE Q & A

Mesa County Commissioner Candidate Questionnaire Responses:

(Commissioners are at-large, so everyone in the county will vote their choice for Dist. 1 and Dist. 3 candidates. Dist. 2 Commissioner Scott McInnis’ term expires in 2023)

  1. What should Mesa County do to protect our air quality and prevent Front Range levels of pollution on the Western Slope?

Cody Davis, District 1: The development of clean technology and more efficient uses of energy sources is the path to cleaner air. As technology increases, society can manage by-products of natural resources and mitigate the risks they impose. I see a brighter and cleaner energy future by utilizing multiple forms of energy; solar, wind, oil, natural gas, hydroelectric, and nuclear. The approach must be market-driven, or energy will inevitably become unaffordable and limited.  

Kathryn Bedell, District 1: The Western Slope is a different air mass than the front range and most of the mountain towns.  When I check the air monitoring numbers it seems all the way to Gypsum has similar air quality to the Denver/ Boulder area.  Our air quality seems to only get poor during wildfire or inversions.  So, the most economically sensible thing is to encourage changed behavior during these periods of time.  Ask citizens to limit driving, wood burning and agricultural burns.

Dave Edwards, District 3: I support Governor Polis’ initiatives to make Colorado carbon-free.

Janet Rowland, District 3: The first step in solving any problem is to clearly identify the problem, both the source and extent of it. 

With regard to the source, there are a variety of things that affect our air quality in Mesa County, such as dust from traffic on unpaved roads, smoke, soot and ash from fires (as we’ve experienced greatly this summer) and automobile exhaust, to name a few.  However, the mere existence of those issues does not automatically mean we have an air-quality problem.  

Data from air-quality monitoring is the best way to determine the extent of the problem.  The Purple Air air quality monitoring project, launched by the Citizens of Clean Air, is an excellent tool. Whitewater is an area Citizens for Clean Air have raised concerns about, yet there is no monitor in the area. We could install a monitor on county property, either at the Landfill, Road & Bridge office or Animal Services. 

Looking at the Purple Air map over time, with the exception of recent forest fires when we had significant ash and other particles in our air, most of the monitoring sites have been at or below 50 AQI. The health department also reports that outside of forest fires, the air quality in Mesa County is relatively good, and consistently remains below an average 50 AQI. Even during the spring when agriculture burning is happening, there is very little increase in AQI, and it occurs in a very short window of time. 

While it appears we are in good shape with respect to air quality in Mesa County at this time, we should continue to monitor it closely, and if we see our AQI rise significantly for extended periods of time, it will be important to then identify the source of that problem and address it. I can’t speculate what that would be, but if we see concerning trends, my preference for solving problems is through community partnerships. I would bring together stakeholders from the public, private and non-profits groups to identify balanced solutions that work for all stakeholders.

  1. Smoke from agricultural burning can create and exacerbate health problems, especially among children, older adults, and people with asthma and other respiratory and cardiopulmonary illnesses. What can Mesa County do to enable the change from traditional agricultural burning to soil enriching techniques that do not involve burning?

Kathryn Bedell, Dist. 1: Agricultural producers are already operating on no to very thin margins, so regulation is not the answer.  I would like to see assistance to institute change; education, demonstrations, and equipment to help them switch to more ecological practices.  As soil health becomes more important and financially rewarded these practices will no longer be used.

Cody Davis, Dist. 1: I believe change is occurring in this realm. Over time, farmers have improved their irrigation methods by piping ditches and ensuring more efficient water supply to their fields. This process has allowed for fewer open ditches for weeds to grow and the mitigation of burning. However, this comes at a high price to farmers and ultimately affects the price of produce in the marketplace. As time continues and the market allows, we will see more and more farmers utilizing other techniques to minimize burning. In the meantime, I support farmers’ ability to burn their crops as it is the most efficient and cost-effective means of maintaining a healthy field. There are government assistance opportunities from soil conservation and salinity programs that aid farmers in this transition, and it’s part of the reason there is less crop burning today. We all understand the value of clean air, and farmers even more so. As County Commissioner, I want to see agriculture thrive in Mesa County to have the ability and wherewithal to be responsive to issues created by burning crops, and ultimately utilize methods that mitigate its use. 

Janet Rowland, Dist. 3: There are basically three viable options for removing weeds from the irrigation ditches, chemicals, mechanical equipment or burning.  There is much opposition to using chemicals, and while mechanical equipment can be used to eradicate weeds in the fields, that same equipment can’t be used on the edges of the fields, without destroying the irrigation ditches. This leaves burning as the most viable solution. 

While our local growers have invested in replacing open irrigation ditches with concrete ditches, pipe, or drip systems, thus eliminating the need to remove weeds from open irrigation ditches, these options come at a significant cost.  

No one cares more about our environment than our farmers. Their very livelihood depends on it.  While we should encourage our farmers to continue investing in these other methods of irrigation, I would stop short of requiring them to do so. Our farmers already operate on a very thin profit margin and mandating them to use these other methods would be burdensome and could put many of them out of business. However, there are some options through government assistance for salinity and soil conservation programs and these options should be encouraged.

Dave Edwards, Dist. 3: Locally, we can restrict open burning to permitted burning, so that farmers aren’t all burning their fields at the same time.  We can work with CSU Agriculture Extension to research different ways to accommodate the needs of farmers.

  1. If elected, what will you do to improve our air quality and protect the vistas that are so important for our quality of life? 

Cody Davis, Dist. 1: Again, clean technology and more efficient uses of energy sources are the paths to cleaner air. As County Commissioner, I will promote and encourage clean technology along with the production of abundant, affordable, reliable, and safe energy from all available sources.

Kathryn Bedell, Dist. 1: I will enlist the extension and environmentally aware land stewards to help move our farmers and ranchers toward better options, perhaps with county incentives.

Dave Edwards, Dist. 3: This is an overly flowery way of asking us the same things we just answered in numbers one and two.  See my answers to one and two above.  I’m not willing to state that I know the answers to all these questions — we need to work with climate scientists and agricultural experts to make transitions to better management of carbon emissions and agricultural byproducts.  

One thing you did not ask is whether I support changes in our diet so that we move away from beef towards more plant-based diets.  I believe we need to transition to more plant based diets both for climate reasons as well as for the general health of the public.

Janet Rowland, Dist. 3: While Mesa County is not currently designated a nonattainment area, we must monitor our air quality closely, to ensure it doesn’t become a nonattainment area. One area where the quality of our air is impacted is related to forest fires. The fires are a very serious problem, and as was recently reported in the Daily Sentinel, we don’t yet know what type of long-term impact the ash and soot from forest fires will have on residents.  As such, the focus for air quality in Mesa County should be directed to forest mismanagement. While managing forests is outside the authority of the county commissioners, we can certainly be a strong advocate with the Federal government, insisting that they do a better job.


Colorado State House Districts 55 & 54 Candidate Responses:

  • What should Colorado do to protect our air quality and prevent Front Range levels of pollution on the Western Slope?

Scott Beilfuss, HD 55: With the Trump administration rolling back so many critical EPA rule rollbacks it is only a matter of time before we become hit by elevated pollution from mining, drilling and car emissions.  Colorado must continue to work toward keeping carbon, methane, and other emissions down to protect our declining climate problems.  

We are getting hit so hard this summer with smoke from the fires in surrounding areas which really put a burden on people with breathing problems.  Combine that with dust from the desert and higher traffic density during non COVID times and the air quality outlook is not good.  Colorado must stand strong and be aggressive on cutting traffic, adding more public transportation, and encouraging EV’s and green power growth in our cities. 

I have advocated locally for more public transportation and better bike lanes and commuting paths to be included in future plans.  We need to encourage bike traffic and discourage cars.  I will report to you that the Ciity of GJ needs a lot of pressure to look differently at building density and bike lanes – right now they are planning for extra lanes (up to five lanes on Hwy 340 in the Redlands!) and have few plans for additional public transportation. 

  • Smoke from agricultural burning creates health problems, especially among children, older adults, and people with asthma and other respiratory and cardiopulmonary illnesses. What can Colorado do to enable the change from traditional agricultural burning to soil enriching techniques that do not involve burning?

Scott Beilfuss, HD 55: I grew up in an agricultural area in Wisconsin and follow a lot of agricultural. They constantly talk about no till farming, saving our soil and cutting chemical use.  Sadly, these practices are not moving fast enough.  I would support a closer relationship with healthy soils groups and a pushback from our cozy relationship at our colleges with big agriculture companies who work to prevent change so that farmers continue to use their chemicals.  Of course, tax incentives to change tillage methods might help too. 

  • If elected, what will you do to improve our air quality and protect the vistas that are so important for our quality of life?

Scott Beilfuss, HD 55: Massively promote growth of the electric vehicles here…help build out the infrastructure.  I would also promote the state emphasizing clean energy and the use of low carbon materials in their purchasing.  I would promote the state incenting local and county governments putting in solar energy on their new buildings.  I would look at ways for new residential construction to use solar.  I would work with the Department of Transportation to create better plans to promote more public transportation and cut car usage.  We need to pay attention to airlines cleaning up their emissions too. I am a big advocate for funding research at our universities for clean air technology.  I am also a member of the GJ Citizen’s Climate Lobby that is advocating for a carbon dividend national program.  The Climate Lobby advocates for the dividend as a solution however I think it is only part of working on lowering emissions.  Obviously the biggest problems are fossil fuel powered electric generation plants.  I will work to hasten their replacement.

(CCA did not receive responses to the questionnaire from HD55 Janice Rich nor HD54 candidates Matt Soper and AliceMarie Slaven-Emond)

STAY INFORMED:

Observe the PurpleAir map regularly (see our home page or visit www.purpleair.com). When the particle count is high in your area, reconsider outdoor exercise, especially if you have respiratory or cardiovascular issues. Children and the elderly are more susceptible to harmful effects from air pollution.

Purchase an indoor air quality monitor to make sure the air inside your home is as clean as possible. Indoor monitors are available at PurpleAir.

Support our work to protect the air; sign up to receive our updates, alerts, and newsletters. Attend the annual Air Quality Public Forum and other events we offer through the year. You are welcome to sit in on one of our regular working meetings as well. Contact us for dates, times, and location.

CONTACT YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS:

Share your concerns when air quality is poor by writing a letter to the editor (LTE) to The Daily Sentinel: letters@gjsentinel.com. Write about why clean air is important to you and your family. The Sentinel limits LTEs to 300 words or less.

Let our elected officials hear why air quality matters to you by contacting: