Truth check: Hickenlooper and a potentially deadly gas targeted in new attack ad

Truth Check

DENVER (KDVR) — The Truth Check team continues to look at the candidates and their commercials in the 2020 election. Every advertisement that claims something — we will research and determine if the ads are actually telling the truth.

You can watch our previous “Truth Check” segments here and you can read our criteria and standards here.

The latest Truth Check involves the highly competitive race for one of Colorado’s United States Senate seats. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper is challenging incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner, who’s defending the seat for the first time.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee released a new attack ad Thursday that targeted Hickenlooper’s environmental record on hydrogen cyanide, a potentially deadly gas.

CLAIM #1 

Hydrogen Cyanide is a chemical weapon

Exact quote in ad: “Hydrogen cyanide is so deadly it’s classified as a chemical weapon.”

Verdict: True

Reason: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies the colorless gas as a chemical warfare agent.

CLAIM #2

Truth Check is breaking down the claim into two parts:

  • 17,000 pounds of hydrogen cyanide was released into Colorado’s air
  • Hickenlooper let a foreign company release the gas

Exact quote in ad: “Hickenlooper let a foreign energy company release 17,000 pounds of hydrogen cyanide into our air.”

Verdict: True and Misleading, respectively

Reason: In 2015, Suncor’s Commerce City refinery conducted a one-time test for hydrogen cyanide. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment calculated that the refinery emitted 17,120 pounds of the gas a year, based on the test. To put that into perspective, another refinery in Colorado released just about 950 pounds of hydrogen cyanide that year. The air pollution happened under Gov. Hickenlooper’s watch. But, CDPHE and its Air Quality Control Commission regulate pollution, not the governor. The governor does appoint that commission and the senate approves its nine members.

CLAIM #3

Hickenlooper raised more than a million dollars from Suncor

Exact quote in ad: “Hickenlooper raised over a million dollars from the polluter.”

Verdict: ???

Reason: Truth Check cannot be sure if Hickenlooper raised – as in – specifically asked Suncor for a million dollars or if the company offered to donate the cash on its own. Truth Check does know this for sure – when Hickenlooper was the mayor of Denver, Suncor gave the city a grant worth a million dollars over five years. It was for the Mile High Million, an initiative to plant a million trees in the Mile High City. It wasn’t a secret, Suncor’s logo is seen multiple times in a city brochure for the program. And to be clear, this happened in 2006, nine years before the hydrogen cyanide issue.

CLAIM #4

Truth Check is breaking down the claim into two parts:

  • Hickenlooper let Suncor avoid disclosing the cyanide gas emissions
  • Hickenlooper let Suncor set its own pollution limits

Exact quote in ad: “Then let them avoid disclosure and set their own pollution limits.”

Verdict: Misleading and Misleading

Reason: Truth Check focused on the word, “let.” When the hydrogen cyanide pollution was tested, Hickenlooper was governor. But again, CDPHE and the Air Quality Control Commission (that the governor appoints) regulate pollution. A Denver Post article reports, CDPHE allowed Suncor to use a “legal loophole” to exempt the company from disclosing hydrogen cyanide emissions. That move was highly criticized by environmental groups and some Democrats, including Congresswoman Dianna DeGette. That leads to the second claim – that Hickenlooper let Suncor set its own pollution limit. Suncor was legally allowed to set its own hydrogen cyanide limit in 2015. The Environmental Protection Agency did not have a maximum allowable limit for the gas. Therefore, the law allowed Suncor to suggest its own limit to the state, which it ultimately did.

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