I recently had a friend visit me in Denver for a few days. As we moved about the city he began coughing and complaining that his nose burned. He asked me why he couldn’t see the mountains and why the air was filled with haze. I found myself not only embarrassed but angry that, yet again, I was having to explain why we as Denverites have to live with horrible air quality day after day, week after week, and month after month. As I write this, I am looking at the cover of a paper that explains Denver is breaking records for consecutive days of hazardous air pollution and that disgusting unbreathable air is our new normal. I do understand that we all must take responsibility for the toxic combination of ground level ozone and never ending wildfire smoke that is almost completely our doing. But as a State Representative and lifelong metro area resident, I beg to differ.
In 2017, I launched my campaign in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea on a promise to do everything I could to improve our environment and take the lead on the generational fight for clean air in the metro area. While I have passed many bills that address this problem, our environment and communities only continue to become more polluted. Why? The answers are complicated. Though we have made significant efforts to curb emissions from Colorado’s dirty legacy oil and gas industry, we have made little progress on improvements to the transportation sector. Too many believe there is a reason we can’t have an electric vehicle that doesn’t destroy our air. And although we live in 2021, the thousands of stop lights forcing our cars to idle is a massive contributor to pollution. As we modernize our city, a connected traffic system must be a Priority.
We have to face the fact that if we are going to fix our air quality issue we are all going to have to adjust. I don’t mean giving up your car (I personally couldn’t imagine life without my ride) but rather switching the source of fuel for your car to electricity. I bought an used EV, which was less expensive than its gas powered equivalent. Yes — the myth about EVs being more expensive is also false. It’s not just changing car sources; we must do the same for lawn equipment. Most lawn mowers pollute far more than most of us realize. Besides, it’s annoying to go buy gas right? Oh, and when we buy gas that is where ozone primarily comes from. You know that lovely gas smell you get while filling up? That’s unburned gas and when it reacts with the summer sun it becomes ozone, which is terrible for our health.
Those highway signs announcing an ozone alert are simply not effective. How many of us can answer the question of what ozone is or how to prevent it? What’s worse is the Trump Administration called out Colorado for our ozone problem. Yes folks, it’s really bad when Trump says you have a problem.
Back to my visitor. He has returned to the clean air of New York, while I on the other hand am stuck here with you — hacking, embarrassed, and frustrated. All that said, I’m excited to go back to work making sure we pass laws that reduce ozone and make EVs a reality. Pollution is death and it is shortening our lives, period. The same issues that are wrecking our air are causing climate change, in turn making fires more common and more severe. Your children, your pets, and you all deserve better. Denver needs more leaders who prioritize these problems. At the end of the day nothing else matters if you or your family are sick.
Let’s embrace the future by taking a look in the mirror and asking what we can do right now to turn this tide. I believe we can, I believe my election shows we have the will, and I believe good public policy can allow us to take control of this situation. I believe in Denver. Oh, and if you want recommendations on a good EV call me — I’m a geek who can talk for hours about how to look cool while saving the world.
Colorado State Representative
Alex Valdez is the elected state representative for House District 5, which includes parts of the Chaffee Park, Sunnyside, Highland, Jefferson Park, Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods. You can reach him at (303) 866-2925 or firstname.lastname@example.org.