We learned recently that the Suncor Energy refinery had another “upset” event in which one of its boilers failed, releasing untold quantities of unknown toxic chemicals into the air. We learned this after our neighbors, friends, and leaders had gathered in Pioneer Park holding a Get Out the Census socially-distanced event where they were outside for hours unknowingly exposed to these mystery chemicals.
They noticed things had been especially hazy in the neighborhood but had no confirmation that anything was truly amiss until we saw a Facebook post from the refinery downplaying the pollution and flaring event. And the irony is that it happened on the day that Commerce City was holding a public meeting regarding how to distribute Suncor’s most recent fine to the community.
We are fed up. We are sickened. We are getting ravaged by Covid-19 and by a city, state, and federal government that doesn’t work for the people but instead allows polluters to get rich while we get sick and die.
Where is U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter in all of this?
Silent. He is unwilling to acknowledge the harm nor to work towards climate and environmental justice. Not a mention on his social media to warn or elevate the issues from the recent incidents for certain. In fact, he has even called Suncor a “good neighbor” during a telephone town hall. Suncor is a bad actor — not a partner to the people. When Rep. Perlmutter does this in the face of climate and environmental injustice, he is an enabler and joins the ranks of deniers of science and morality, like Sen. Cory Gardner.
We are reaching our breaking point in North Denver, South Adams County, and in towns like ours across the country. Last year, Suncor had a massive release of hydrogen cyanide that went largely unnoticed. This gas was used by Nazis to commit genocide. It was floating around our neighborhoods, and no one even bothered to tell us. During a December “upset” event, Suncor responded to neighborhood complaints about all the particulate matter in the air by offering free car washes.
Car washes won’t stop any of the untold ways we are harmed by this facility.
We need our elected leaders to step up and do something for the people they represent. We need a plan for a just transition out of this mess. We need to find new employment for refinery workers on the frontlines and who also suffer from years of chemical exposure. We need Colorado and federal agencies to actually enforce environmental protections, not just let bad actors like Suncor slide.
We can start with one very simple thing and that is for our state agencies, including the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, to hold Suncor accountable to providing transparency about what the plant is emitting and what we are breathing in. We won the right to know about chemical releases in the passage of HB20-1265, the Air Toxics Bill, which essentially creates a reverse 911 system to notify frontline community residents about upsets at the refinery and other emergencies. This was only a small piece of the air toxin protection we sought before the pandemic flipped the Colorado Legislature upside down. But this latest event and the amount this past year makes this an even more urgent issue that must get fast-tracked by Colorado legislators. Community notification is the very bare minimum of what should be expected.
Ean Thomas Tafoya is co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum.