By Eric Heinz
In the second installment of our series on the City Council District 9 election, we asked the candidates to address environmental issues in the Globeville, Elyria and Swansea (GES) neighborhoods. The municipal election is April 4, and if a runoff is required, it will be June 6.
Atlas said he would like better planning for the GES neighborhoods, not just because of the manufacturing and the pollution that comes from it, but also fumes from the highway.
“I’ve talked to those folks and they’ve been asking for something to be done for generations, and the city hasn’t listened,” Atlas said. “We haven’t done enough to (prevent) just the noise, the smells as well as obviously (addressing) the air quality. The city as well as the state has to do something.”
Atlas said there are nuanced things the city could also do, such as preventing large trucks from entering residential neighborhoods. He also said he wants to provide more infrastructure for electric cars as an incentive for residents to buy one, as well as more opportunities for public infrastructure and reducing the need for personal vehicles.
“I think that we’re at that transition,” he said. “The new Office of Climate Action, Sustainability & Resiliency has created a lot of great projects and solutions, and so continuing to fund that effort, continuing to expand the type of programs that we’re doing to make our city more climate resilient as well as more sustainable is things I’m gonna be supporting.”
Providing more opportunities for people to purchase solar panels and updating infrastructure in older homes to make them more suitable for residents are also on Atlas’ agenda. He said he also wants to make Denver’s recycling programs more robust.
“Given your social-economic status, you might not have access or even the education about how to live sustainably,” Atlas said. “Sometimes it’s cost-prohibitive to live sustainably and make the best choices for yourself as well as for the planet and for the community. Doing more to be that bridge for folks is what the city really needs to be looking at.”
Watson said environmental injustices have plagued the GES communities for more than 100 years, and he said he was particularly concerned about the recent discovery that the EPA has been investigating discriminatory polluting, particularly from the nearby Suncor Refinery since last year.
Watson said the idea that racism plays a role in permitting for refineries like Suncor as well as their emissions “is cause for alarm.” He added that environmental issues are a major part of why he’s running for council.
“What I’m trying to elevate in this election is that legislative leadership is necessary,” he said. “It has to be a collaborative, constructive process that is multi-jurisdictional” to hold polluters accountable.
Watson said he would like to see the city put together a decade-long fund from projects that cause pollution and could benefit the GES neighborhoods. He said working with the federal government to implement enforcement of environmental infractions will also be needed if they are to be held accountable.
“It’s a dual-control piece, constructively bringing not just community members and nonprofits to the table to do this environmental justice work, but making sure that the entities that are causing these environmental hazards are part of the solution,” Watson said. “I believe that we definitely need to work constructively, sit down with and make sure that (polluting companies) understand the issues from the Denver and District 9 perspective, that they understand the responsibility they have within communities.”
Watson said because the GES neighborhoods have a predominantly working class, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to long and complex environmental battles. “What my office will do is really inform the entire city in a more holistic, more direct way about the impacts of environmental injustice and racism to these communities of color, specifically (Latino) communities and how it impacts us all.”
CdeBaca said the Central I-70 project was what drove her to run for elected office in the first place, and she said her family was the first to file lawsuits against smelting companies, which caused the Environmental Protection Agency to declare a superfund site in Globeville.
“Before coming to council, I organized across City Park, Park Hill and GES to file the lawsuit against the highway expansion,” CdeBaca said. “One of the pieces that we got out of that was the settlement that allowed us to do the cumulative health impact study.”
CdeBaca said she continues to be involved with the issues related to the health study as well as community advisory groups related to the Central I-70 project. She said through those efforts, a stakeholder has also been established that includes council members, the EPA and local residents.
She said the benefits of those efforts helped support Colorado’s air quality monitoring bill that became law last year, which made the state’s monitoring more robust than the Clean Air Act.
“We’re also trying to figure out how to pursue a pollution trespass ordinance,” CdeBaca said, adding that means it would give the city a framework to pursue legal action against polluters that are outside of Denver’s borders but still pollute in its neighborhoods, such as the Suncor Refinery located in Commerce City.
CdeBaca added that tree-planting efforts and healthier environmental policies are what need to be “heavily concentrated” in her district.
“My district has the most deficient tree canopy in the city and the most polluted ZIP code in America,” she said. “I think we’re a high priority for both acquiring parks, planting trees, and I’ve been a staunch advocate of both of those things in holding the city accountable when they are not providing those materials.”