Monument woman goes to court over Drake emissions


Drake Power Plant - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Drake Power Plant
A "squeaky wheel" complainer about emissions from Colorado Springs Utilities' downtown Drake Power Plant is due in court Friday to defend herself against allegations she mishandled a confidential court document.

Leslie Weise, a Monument resident who's an attorney, though not licensed in Colorado, is being taken to task for releasing information from a document erroneously sent to her as part of a Court of Appeals case.

Weise contends the report she was inadvertently given proves the Drake plant is poisoning the air. Colorado Springs Utilities argues the report is based on modeling, not actual data, and that scrubbers have been added to Drake, and one unit decommissioned, to improve air quality.

We asked Springs Utilities about all this and received this statement via email:
This hearing tomorrow is being held because the Court of Appeals has determined that Ms. Weise may have violated its court order when she publicly discussed documents sealed by the District Court after she inadvertently received the information. The attorney representing Colorado Springs Utilities will be requesting an evidentiary hearing on this matter.

We want to clarify information regarding the impact of the Martin Drake Power Plant on air quality. This plant meets all Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) air regulatory requirements. Official air quality reports are public information and available through CDPHE.

Here's the news release issued by the Weise camp:
Denver, CO – On Friday January 6th, at 10am, El Paso County resident Leslie Weise has been ordered to appear in the Colorado Court of Appeals to determine if her efforts to seek truth and transparency regarding a damning air quality report that Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) has prevented the public from seeing will be met with sanctions and fines from the Court. Weise was inadvertently given access to the secret report after she filed a petition in District Court for release of the report under the Colorado Open Records Act. CSU has requested the Court of Appeals to punish her for speaking about it.

Who: Three-judge panel at Colorado Court of Appeals will consider if concerned parent Leslie Weise should receive sanctions and/or fines for whistleblowing Colorado Springs Utilities’ Air Quality Violations; many Weise supporters plan to be in attendance wearing red.

What: Colorado Court of Appeals to consider if Weise should be punished for whistleblowing Colorado Springs Utilities’ Air Quality Violations.

When: Friday, January 6th, at 10am

Where: Colorado Court of Appeals, 1st floor of the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center at 2 East Fourteenth Ave, Denver 80203

Why: More than 1,400 Coloradans have signed a petition and over 45 business and community leaders have signed a group letter asking Colorado Springs Utilities to release the air quality report showing non-compliance of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions and drop their threat of sanctions, fines and imprisonment against Leslie Weise. Dozens of community members protested outside the Utility Board meeting last month and 15 residents spoke during the public comment period of the meeting, calling for transparency and dropping charges against Weise. A separate letter was sent by the City of Manitou Springs Mayor and City Council expressing their concerns over the air quality impacts to their community located just west of the Martin Drake Plant.

Nevertheless, CSU and the Utility Board appeared unmoved and are proceeding with their legal force to silence and punish Ms. Weise. CSU’s CEO Jerry Forte continues to claim that SO2 emissions from the coal fired Martin Drake Power Plant have been in regulatory compliance despite all of the multiple professionally-completed air models revealing dangerously high spikes in SO2 along the foothills of the Pikes Peak region. The EPA designated the region “unclassifiable” for the SO2 standard for safe levels of air quality. Nearly 300,000 people and 120,000 children live within a five mile radius of the Martin Drake Plant.

The combination of CSU withholding the air quality report whose non-compliance results were made known through Weise’s Court filings and the media and CSU filing for sanctions and fines against Weise has many citizens questioning the management and operations of their municipally-owned “schoolyard bully” Utility and its governing Board. Many supporters of Weise’s efforts plan to attend the court proceedings Friday, in what they consider to be a David vs. Goliath fight, with the City of Colorado Springs trying to silence a brave, single mother concerned for the public and the safety of her son attending elementary school near the Martin Drake Plant.

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. Exposure to SO2 for as little as five minutes can cause respiratory distress, increased asthma symptoms, and aggravate heart disease; impacts are felt most acutely by children, the elderly, and asthmatics.

While the air quality report (created by AECOM under contract from CSU) applies only to SO2 concentrations, many local residents are concerned about other by-products of burning coal, some of which can cause cancer, birth defects and respiratory ailments, and are pushing for Colorado Springs Utilities to transition to clean renewable power sources, which are now at cost-parity or in some cases cheaper than fossil fuel energy. Residents and local leaders are demanding transparency via the release of air quality reports from Colorado Springs Utilities and dropping legal action against Leslie Weise for bringing air quality violations to the light of day.

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