Colorado commission could impose low-emissions vehicle standards this week

While environmentalists and some industry sectors support the move, state Senate Republicans and auto dealers say it subverts the state’s separation of powers.

Maria Handley, acting executive director of Conservation Colorado, speaks at a news conference in June lauding Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order on adopting low-emissions vehicle standards for the state.

Colorado Air Quality Control Commission members will decide this week whether to implement in this state the same low-emissions vehicles standards that California enforces, despite complaints from some members of the Colorado Senate that the process is subverting the separation of powers in state government and tying state auto dealers to rules overseen by officials in another state with whom they have no connections.

The vote — which will occur after a public hearing that is scheduled for Thursday and Friday — comes after Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order in June calling for state health officials to develop tougher emission standards for cars and trucks that are sold in the state beginning in 2022. The AQCC in August decided to go even further and consider minimum-sales mandates for zero-emission vehicles in a process expected to last from December to March, as soon as the LEV question is settled.

This push for lower emission standards comes from another executive order the Democratic governor issued in 2017 to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by more than 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. Environmental groups back it, as do industry leaders in sectors such as skiing and outdoor recreation, but auto manufacturers in particular are fighting it, saying it will boost the cost of vehicles.

Senate Assistant Minority Leader John Cooke, R-Greeley, added more controversy to the measure three weeks ago when he sent a letter to AQCC chairman Peter Butler to tell him he believes the rule-making is being done in opposition to existing state law. Cooke argued that it subverts the legislative process to making laws, ties the state to standards that are written and enforced by California law and goes beyond the directive in Hickenlooper’s order by considering zero-emission vehicle standards that his order did not comprehend.

While Cooke’s complaints have not slowed the rule-making process, he said that Senate Republicans could fight the 2019 rules bill that contains any new rules created by state commissions, though even that effort just got harder when Democrats won back control of the Senate for the first time in four years during the Nov. 6 election.

“We’ll be governed by Sacramento as opposed to being governed by Denver,” Cooke said, noting that the language contemplated by the AQCC in August required Colorado not only to adopt the current LEV standards first created by California but any future changes made by that state to the guidelines. “I think it is a power grab. And it is bad policy.”

It’s a proposed policy that is gaining an increasing amount of supporters. Clean-air advocates led by the Colorado Public Interest Research Group on Tuesday submitted roughly 7,600 signatures to the commission calling for the new standards to be put into place. And Boulder County commissioners went further on Tuesday and adopted a GoEV Resolution calling for the county’s fleet of vehicles to be all-electric by 2030 or whenever the technology allows for such a change and for the government to adopt incentives and regulations that convert all privately owned vehicles to zero-emissions technology by 2050.

“Adopting emissions standards for cars in Colorado will not only reduce air pollution but will save Coloradans money at the pump because cleaner cars are usually more fuel-efficient,” CoPIRG director Danny Katz said. “We all know the cost of a car is not just the sticker price but also the cost of fuel, so a more efficient car will save Coloradans money every time they drive.”

At the August AQCC hearing, Doug Decker, mobile sources director for the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, said the LEV mandate would lead to a $750 million cumulative annual increase in the cost of new vehicles. But it would be offset by $2.9 billion in fuel-cost savings over the life of the vehicle and nearly 2 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide being spewed into the atmosphere annually by 2030, he added.

Leighton Yates, senior manager of state affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in an interview, however, that implementing the changes in Colorado would be harder than in other states because Coloradans are prone to driving heavy vehicles that are less likely to be made in zero-emissions versions — 70 percent of new vehicles purchased in the state are light-duty truck, sport utility vehicles or crossovers, he said. Also, while 1.5 percent of new vehicles sold in Colorado are electric zero-emission vehicles — a percentage that ranks Colorado sixth nationally — that is still far below the ZEV goals of other states that call for some 10 to 15 percent of new car sales to meet this definition by 2025, he noted.

Tim Jackson, president and CEO of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, said implementation of the proposed new rules would increase the cost of vehicles by $2,000 on average to meet new LEV standard and $6,000 to meet ZEV standards. And he noted that anyone who plugs their electric cars in for a charge would still be getting that power from an electric grid with a substantial amount of coal-powered energy on it, reducing the environmental impact they sought.

“These are going to be much tougher standards for Coloradans to meet than they are for Californians to meet,” Jackson said.

Author: Ed Sealover, Reporter, Denver Business Journal
Original article here. (sub. req.)

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