Colorado AG’s Office Interested in Investigating Whistleblower Allegations

Industrial plant with black smoke

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office is seeking independent legal services to conduct an investigation into whistleblowers’ allegations that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) urged them to ignore air quality standards violations.

On March 30, three CDPHE employees sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General Sean W. O’Donnell. The employees work for CDPHE’s Air Pollution Control Division (APCD), “which is responsible for enforcing National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS),” according to previous WNN reporting. In their letter, they allege that on March 15, CDPHE enacted a rule that prohibited “air quality modeling staff from reviewing NAAQS compliance” for a series of air quality standards. The whistleblowers also allege that CDPHE engaged in several actions that violated NAAQS, such as “[s]uppressing information demonstrating that pending permits would lead to violations of NAAQS” and “[a]pproving air quality permits which violate NAAQS.”

The letter urges Inspector General O’Donnell to “review the following alleged instances of violations of law, mismanagement, and abuse of authority by CDPHE.” Now, the Colorado Department of Law (DOL) is “seeking the services of a legal services firm to represent the Governor” and the CDPHE, “and serve as Special Assistant Attorneys General to conduct an independent investigation” into the whistleblowers’ allegations, according to the request for information document.

The DOL’s Request for Information

The request for information states that the legal services “will be supervised by the DOL, by DOL staff who do not provide day-to-day legal representation and counsel to CDPHE,” and provides information about the responsibilities of the legal services. The legal services will include “[a]n independent and thorough investigation of factual allegations raised by CDPHE employees Rosendo Majano, De Vondria Reynolds, and Bradly Fink” in their letter to Inspector General O’Donnell. “The factual investigation will consider allegations in the EPA Letter that permits were unlawfully issued and that a CDPHE modeler was ordered to falsify data in a modeling report to ensure that no modeled violation would be reported,” the document states.

The legal services will also need to conduct “[a]n independent legal analysis of CDPHE’s statutory authority and discretion regarding Colorado’s legal obligations under the [NAAQS] program.” The investigation will also result in a publicly released report. Additionally, the document provides information for law firms that are interested in undertaking this project and describes a bit about how the agency will make its selection.

In an April 26 article from The Colorado Sun, Chandra Rosenthal, one of the lawyers for the whistleblowers, commented that the DOL’s decision signals the state’s “commitment to transparency, scientific integrity and combating air pollution.”

The Colorado Sun reports that representatives from CDPHE and APCD said “they were the ones who asked for the probe.”

“CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan requested the investigation from the Attorney General’s Office with the governor’s office’s support,” representatives said in a statement to the paper. “While we are confident that the division is acting in accordance with state and federal laws,” the statement added, the department will be “responsive to the concerns raised and transparent in everything we do,” according to the article.

The proposals to provide legal services in this investigation “may be submitted no later than 5:00 p.m. MT on May 10, 2021,” according to the DOL’s request for information. “Proposals should be submitted in pdf format to the DOL’s Procurement Team via email, and any questions also should be sent to that email address.”

Read the whistleblowers’ March 30 letter to Inspector General O’Donnell.

Read the request for information from the Colorado Department of Law.

Read The Colorado Sun article.

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