Whistleblower fraud allegations about Colorado air quality division “unsubstantiated,” report finds

State health officials said Friday morning that they don’t have enough guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency to know when to estimate whether “minor” polluters in Colorado exceed air quality limits on particulates, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

The Colorado Attorney General’s office released Friday an independent report on an investigation into a complaint filed by three whistleblowers in March. The report also found that claims of fraud and suppression were unsubstantiated, according to Shaun McGrath, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s environmental programs.

The three, who worked for the state’s Air Pollution Control Division of CDPHE, said in that 14-page complaint in March that division director Gary Kaufman ordered managers to tell employees not to review or model estimated emissions at certain facilities for those gases and particulates less than 2.5 micrometers. All three contribute to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone.

The employees alleged that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was “suppressing information” and “approving air quality permits” that violated national air quality standards. Through the Maryland-based organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the whistleblowers said the state fosters a culture of approving permits for industrial polluters “at all costs” and to the detriment of public health.

Gov. Jared Polis and CDPHE Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan asked Attorney General Phil Weiser in April to investigate the whistleblowers’ allegations, and in July, state officials chose national legal firm Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP to lead the probe.

Ryan said Friday that the report highlighted that lack of federal guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA representatives did not immediately respond to request for comment.

“The report does illustrate the need for more scientifically sound criteria and better processes for when to model minor sources,” Ryan told The Post.

Kaufman is still the director of the Air Pollution Control Division, Ryan said.

That surprised Chandra Rosenthal, who is the Rocky Mountain Field Office director for PEER: “They’re really sticking by (Kaufman), huh?”

Rosenthal said state officials have known for years that employees had concerns about how smaller facilities are monitored, and acted after the whistleblower complaint went public.

Her nonprofit is considering whether to ask law enforcement officials to examine whether Kaufman broke any laws.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.

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