Head of embattled state air quality agency steps down

Garry Kaufman has led the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division since 2017

By: - October 12, 2021 1:36 pm

The Air Pollution Control Division is a branch of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

The head of Colorado’s embattled Air Pollution Control Division has stepped down, the agency confirmed on Tuesday.

Garry Kaufman, who has served as the director of the APCD since 2017, has accepted a new role as the division’s deputy director for regulatory affairs, according to a statement from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Trisha Oeth, CDPHE’s director of environmental policy, will oversee the agency as interim director.

“We are grateful for the APCD experts and leaders who have helped get us to where we are today, and we want to ensure continued progress,” Shaun McGrath, CDPHE’s director of environmental health and protection, said in a statement. “It’s why we are enhancing and restructuring the management to reduce the amount of direct reports each manager oversees and creating new positions to help us be even more prepared to meet the air quality challenges of 2021.”

“For too long, the division has been understaffed, leaving gaps that we need to fill. It’s why we are creating a Deputy Director of Regulatory Affairs, which Garry Kaufman has accepted, effective 10/11,” McGrath’s statement continued.

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The APCD, which is tasked with regulating Colorado’s air quality and leading many of its efforts to tackle climate change, has been the subject of frequent controversy in recent years. It has faced multiple lawsuits from environmental groups who have accused it of failing to fully implement a key 2019 greenhouse gas emissions law, and this year became the target of state and federal investigations into a whistleblower complaint filed by three current employees.

Former division employees, along with attorneys for the whistleblowers, alleged a long-running pattern of secrecy and political interference in a four-part Newsline investigation into the agency’s culture.

Kaufman has been the director of the APCD since 2017. He previously served in a variety of roles at the agency from 2003 to 2014, including deputy director.

His three-year stint outside the agency between 2014 and 2017, during which he worked as an attorney at the law firm Holland and Hart, became a source of controversy relating to enforcement waivers granted to a gold mine in Teller County. Kaufman had represented the mine’s owner, Newmont Corp., as an attorney at Holland and Hart and failed to disclose a conflict of interest in violation of department policies, an independent investigation found.

That investigation, conducted by outside attorneys appointed by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and released last month, did not substantiate whistleblower claims of falsified or suppressed data, but called the division’s policies relating to air-quality modeling “inadequate.”

“We will be conducting a nationwide search for a visionary leader to be the next Division Director who can help the state further advance its bold initiatives around air quality and greenhouse gas emissions,” McGrath said. “In moving forward, there’s a role for every APCD expert to play, and we’re calling on them to ensure Colorado is leading the way on air quality policies.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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