Denver, CO — On February 20, 350 Colorado announced that it has filed a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request for an air quality report being kept secret from the public by the City of Colorado Springs and its municipally owned Utilities. According to the Colorado Secretary of State’s website: “In the spirit of open government, the Colorado Open Records Act requires that most public records be available to the public.”
On Wednesday, February 8, the Colorado Court of Appeals dismissed its citation against El Paso County resident Leslie Weise who had been seeking air quality information through CORA concerning the Martin Drake Power Plant, an 80-year old coal-fired plant located central to downtown Colorado Springs. Weise agreed to dismiss her appeal to obtain public access to the records that she had been pursuing as part of last week’s action, releasing her from any potential punishment.
350 Colorado remains concerned about potentially dangerous air quality to people in the Pikes Peak region, and insist that the 200,000 people who live and work within a five mile radius of the Drake Plant located in the heart of Colorado Springs have a right to air quality reports that they paid for. So this week 350 Colorado, a nonprofit organization where Weise serves as board member and local team leader, picked up the baton by filing a new request under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).
As reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Weise’s concerns that the Martin Drake plant was in violation of federal sulfur dioxide standards, based on multiple air quality modeling studies, were furthered after the Court of Appeals accidentally sent her the air quality study commissioned by the Colorado Springs Utilities that she had been seeking. She returned the report upon order of the Court of Appeals. Nevertheless, this incident prompted a groundswell of citizens and the 350 Colorado Springs team to step up pressure on the City of Colorado Springs to release the records and address the issue. The City responded by trying to threaten Weise into silence.
The City of Colorado Springs had petitioned the Court of Appeals for punitive sanctions to be imposed against Weise for speaking out about the air quality violations of the Martin Drake Plant, which the City of Colorado Springs continues to withhold from the public.
Leslie Weise, a single mother whose child attends elementary school under the plume of toxins from the Drake Power Plant, was facing a serious threat of fines and/or jail time for her efforts to ensure that the coal-burning power plant complies with air quality standards.
Gina Hardin, Chair of 350 Colorado, stated: “The American public cannot afford to allow its citizens to be bullied for demanding information impacting the health of their families. Our democracy in a republic requires that citizens be able to petition their government with complaints and requests for aid. It also demands that citizens be able to speak freely with very limited exceptions. How else can we protect ourselves from government and corporate abuse?”
Hardin added, “It is imperative that people who stand up for the public’s health and welfare not be targeted, as the risks of speaking up will silence others from taking action to protect their communities.”
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) has been found by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to cause severe health impacts in concentrations as low as 75 parts per billion. Evidence indicates, and the sought after reports are strongly believed to show, that the concentrations are significantly higher than this, due to emissions from the Drake power plant. See last month’s Denver Post article: Colorado Springs wrestles with sulfur dioxide pollution from central coal-fired power plant.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Weise with the legal bills that accrued to ensure her proper defense in this legal attack.