Denver’s air quality triggers new EPA gas requirements



The EPA found Denver’s air quality to be so poor that it will require people to buy cleaner, more expensive gas. The issue is more complex than just cleaner gas.

DENVER — The Environmental Protection Agency says the Denver metro area’s air quality has become so poor that it triggered a requirement for drivers to buy a more expensive, but cleaner, gas.

Reformulated gas is gas meant to burn cleaner and cut down the amount that evaporates into the air from cars and other equipment, like lawn mowers. 

The EPA said the Denver metro area and north front range would first see this kind of gas in June of 2024 and only be required to buy it during the summer months. 

How much more will it cost?

Last week, on September 15, the Administrator signed a regulation that classifies Denver as having what the Clean Air Act calls a “severe” ozone air quality status.  Under the law, any area determined to have a severe status must switch to using cleaner gasoline called “reformulated” gasoline. Many areas of the country use reformulated gas in the summer months to protect air quality and public health from ground-level ozone, or smog. This action was required under the Clean Air Act, and more information on the regulation can be found here.”

“EPA has estimated that it will cost approximately 3 cents more per gallon for refineries to produce reformulated gasoline for the Denver area.  All grades of gasoline (regular, mid-grade and premium) will be reformulated gasoline. It should be noted that there are many factors that ultimately influence consumer prices for gasoline, and the cost of production is only one factor.”

Democratic Governor Jared Polis’s office said that while they don’t have a concrete number for Colorado, a recent study shows it could cost 3 cents more a gallon. Costs have varied across the country, as high as 26 cents more a gallon.

In a statement, the Governor’s office said: 

“There is no hard number of what this could potentially do to gas prices and Governor Polis is concerned about the impacts this approach could have on the most vulnerable Coloradans, with minimal benefit to air quality. “

The EPA said nine regions, including LA and New York, currently use reformulated gas during the summers, which is peak ozone season. 

However, it’s difficult to compare state to state gas prices without considering different taxes and costs of doing business. 

 Will it work in Colorado? 

We talked to Professors Scott Denning and Santanu Jathar with Colorado State University. 

“It is likely to clean our gas up quite a bit more than the ethanol we’ve had before,” Denning said. “But let me also say the reasons we have bad ozone pollution in Colorado isn’t so much that our gas sucks but our air is thin. Ain’t going to do anything about that. And there’s a lot of sunshine.”  

Sunshine for smog to interact with and different oxygen levels that can change how gas reacts with air, and all result in ozone problems. 

“Denver has a more severe ozone problem than other parts of the country,” Jathar said. 

Weather is a huge component in changing ozone conditions day to day. 

“Inversion that holds the rush hour smog close to the ground in Denver and sun beats down on it, those are ozone alert days,” Denning said. “Those days aren’t going to go away because we changed the formulation of our gasoline.” 

“The fact that cars are cleaner,” Jathar said. “Now it’s a smaller piece of the ozone puzzle.” 

Both professors said that it will help, but it might not make the biggest dent in the problem in Colorado. 

What are the alternatives? 

Both professors said that cars and gas are just one component, and that it is important to focus on big pictures items, like changing how people commute and switching to cleaner energy. 

The state said they’ve also outlined different legislation and money dedicated to clean air to the EPA. They said they heard from the EPA that it is committed to working with Colorado. 

The governor is also exploring legal challenges to delay the start date to buy Colorado time to work towards compliance in other ways than reformulated gas. 

“EPA follows an established process, and we would work with the state of Colorado to determine if all the requirements for removing the reformulated gasoline requirement were met.”

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