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Zero emission vehicles in Colorado:
Debate revs up auto industry, enviros

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper checks out an electric vehicle in January 2018 before announcing a statewide plan to encourage more charging stations.(Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Colorado air-quality regulators have launched a rulemaking process that could make Colorado the 11th state in the nation to adopt California’s standard for zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) mandating the sale of electric vehicles. But auto manufacturers say Colorado is already on track without the costly new standard and should keep doing things “the Colorado way.”

The state’s Air Quality Control Commission will hold a stakeholder’s meeting on the ZEV standard (Regulation No. 20) on Friday, Oct. 19, in Denver. The next hearings on the LEV program will be held Nov. 15-16. Go to the AQCC website for more information.

Leighton Yates, senior manager of state affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told Colorado Politics that nationwide ZEV sales (plug-in electric vehicles or those powered by a hydrogen fuel cell) represent less than 1 percent of all vehicle sales in a year. But in Colorado, ZEV sales currently stand at 1.5 percent of all new vehicles sales.

“We prefer markets, not mandates, and the market in Colorado is ripe for ZEVs,” Yates said, adding that Colorado already outperforms all but two of the nine other states that have adopted the California ZEV standards – all of which are either on the East or West Coast.

“We want Colorado to keep doing it their way. It’s working, there’s proof that it’s working, and there’s no need for the mandate,” said Yates, citing stats showing there were about 4,000 electric vehicles sold in Colorado in 2017. The California ZEV standard would require 43,000 in Colorado by 2025, he said, and that’s too big a jump.

The California ZEV standard (download here) requires automakers to obtain ZEV credits based on the number of gas-powered vehicles they sell in a state, and credits are awarded based on the type of ZEV and its overall battery range. The California ZEV standard – a variance granted under the federal Clean Air Act – requires that about 8 percent of new sales are electric vehicles by 2025.

Jessica Goad, deputy director of Conservation Colorado

Jessica Goad, deputy director of Conservation Colorado, told Colorado Politics that its consultants predict adoption of the ZEV standard would bump Colorado electric vehicle sales from 18,000 by 2025 without the standard to 30,000 in 2025 with the new standard.

“Car companies that are actively trying to sell EVs in Colorado will easily be able to meet the targets and this will spur the other companies to be able to meet those targets as well,” Goad said. “We need swift action in terms of cleaning up our transportation system and spurring the clean-tech economy here, and we think that this takes the good work that Colorado has already done and puts it on an even faster glide path.”

In June, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order (download here) requiring the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a rule adopting the California Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) program, which can include gas-electric hybrids as well as ZEVs.

The order required the department to propose the rule to the Air Quality Control Commission at its August meeting, where there was overwhelming support from conservation groups and some towns and counties for both the LEV and the more stringent ZEV standard.

Hickenlooper made his move in part because of what his executive order calls the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts “to roll back vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for model years 2022 and beyond.”

Now the debate has reached the race to succeed Hickenlooper, who is term-limited.
“Walker’s position on ZEV is the same as LEV — it would hurt Colorado,” said Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton’s spokesman, Jerrod Dobkin. “But ZEV would have even worse effects, and Polis has supported this at the federal level.”

A spokeswoman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis declined to offer a comment on the ZEV standard, instead referring to a previous statement from the Boulder congressman.

“Clean air is incredibly important to our health, especially for our kids and seniors,” Polis offered in a statement to the Durango Herald. “I support and will continue Gov. Hickenlooper’s efforts to meet the growing demand for low-emission vehicles while fighting pollution, protecting our air quality and addressing climate change.”

Tim Jackson, CEO of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association.

For the time in its long history, the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association trade group last week endorsed a gubernatorial candidate, giving the nod to Stapleton. “Walker understands how over-burdensome regulations will make the cars and light trucks Coloradans like or need to buy more expensive for families and put people out of jobs,” association CEO Tim Jackson said at the time.

In the most recent public polling in the race, however, Stapleton trails Polis 40 to 47 percent with less than three weeks to go before the Nov. 6 election.

Yates, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers official, said another big hurdle for Colorado if it adopts the ZEV standard is that Coloradans like their light trucks – a category that includes pickups, sport-utility vehicles and crossovers – but technological challenges have that class of vehicle lagging behind passenger cars in terms of being fully electrified.

Yates says 75 percent of the new vehicles sold in Colorado every year fit that light truck category, which is 10 percent higher than the national average. In the Denver metro area, it’s 5 percent higher at 70 percent.

“You have the metro area of the state that probably accounts for most of the ZEV sales, but there’s still more people buying trucks, and that’s not a problem,” Yates said. “The problem is there aren’t currently any electrified pickup options in the United States.”

They’re coming, he said, but the engineering and technology – especially as it relates to payload and all-wheel-drive — hasn’t caught up to the EV demand.

Goad, the Conservation Colorado executive, counters that by the time that the ZEV standard would go into effect in Colorado in 2022 there will be at least 21 electric SUVs on the market, including a new Subaru, “and you know how Coloradans love their Subarus.”

“So we don’t think this is at all the cart before the horse,” Goad said of mandating electric vehicles that aren’t currently on the market. “This just allows us to capture the energy of the current industry and where they’re going, which is very much to look at the light-duty trucks.”

Author: David O. Williams, freelance writer based in Eagle-Vail, Colo.
First appeared here (sub. req.) in Colorado Politics.

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