Colorado becomes 14th state to adopt stronger vehicle emission standards

The state joins backers of California's vehicle emissions rules in face of EPA rollbacks.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sits in the back of a Tesla Model X electric car before a press conference on January 24, 2018. CREDIT: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sits in the back of a Tesla Model X electric car before a press conference on January 24, 2018. CREDIT: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed an executive order on Tuesday that commits the state to adopting tougher emission standards for vehicles. The order puts Colorado on the path to join 13 other states that have adopted California’s strict vehicle emissions standards.

Hickenlooper signed the executive order more than two months after Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency would roll back vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for model year 2022 cars and beyond.

Advertisement

The more stringent emissions standards are expected to help Colorado meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2025. In the executive order, Hickenlooper directed the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a rule to establish a Colorado low emission vehicle program, which incorporates the requirements of California’s vehicle emissions program.

Once drafted by the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment, the rule will then be submitted to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission for consideration at its August meeting and for possible adoption into the Colorado Code of Regulations by December 30.

Because California’s economy is so large, the state’s stricter fuel efficiency standards have forced automakers to design cars that fit within the state’s standards. Under a waiver granted by the EPA, the Clean Air Act allows states to adopt California’s alternative vehicle standards.

Colorado would be the first non-coastal state to adopt the tougher vehicle emissions standards.

“Low emissions vehicles are increasingly popular with consumers and are better for our air,” Hickenlooper said Tuesday in a statement. “Every move we make to safeguard our environment is a move in the right direction.”

Environmental advocates hold press conference in Denver on June 19, 2018 on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's decision to sign an executive order directing the state to adopt advanced clean car standards. CREDIT: Conservation Colorado
Environmental advocates hold press conference in Denver on June 19, 2018 on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's decision to sign an executive order directing the state to adopt advanced clean car standards. CREDIT: Conservation Colorado

In January, before Trump took office, the EPA issued an evaluation of fuel efficiency requirements for cars and light trucks for years 2022-2025, saying that the auto efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards were feasible and that the benefits outweighed the costs of implementation.

Advertisement

But at the direction of Pruitt, the EPA is now in the process of rewriting those standards that aimed to slash carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles.

While the Trump administration has yet to announce what it would replace the current standards with, one option would freeze them at 2020 levels — 37 miles per gallon of gas — for all vehicle models through 2026. The Obama administration’s rules, negotiated with automakers in 2011, aimed at increasing average fleet-wide fuel efficiency to about 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

The agency is also expected to revoke California’s waiver allowing it to set more demanding standards.

A lawsuit was filed on May 1, by 17 states and the District of Columbia challenging the EPA determination, published on April 13, that the fuel efficiency requirements for cars and light trucks are too stringent and must be revised. Colorado was not part of the lawsuit.

“With the Trump administration abdicating leadership on cleaning up tailpipe pollution and saving consumers money on gas, states need advanced vehicle standards to ensure their citizens get to drive the cleanest, most affordable cars on the market,” Noah Long, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Tuesday in a statement. “This action will help ensure Coloradans still get clean air and cleaner cars.”

Advertisement

Public officials are now spending more time trying to reduce emissions from vehicles. In 2016, the transportation sector overtook power plants as the largest carbon-emitting sector. For decades, the power sector had been the nation’s biggest source of carbon emissions.

“Transportation is the number two source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado — and number one source of emissions in the nation. Adopting clean car standards means fewer bad air days and a better quality of life for citizens across our state.” Garrett Garner-Wells, director of Environment Colorado, said Tuesday in a statement.

In January, Colorado adopted an electric vehicle plan aimed at promoting a transition from gasoline-power vehicles to electric vehicles (EV) in the state. The plan also serves as a roadmap to build out a fast-charging network, “giving Coloradans the ability to travel anywhere in the state in an EV,” Hickenlooper said in a statement in January.

The Trump administration’s decision to weaken fuel efficiency standards could have “serious consequences” for Colorado’s effort to meet its clean energy goals by increasing carbon dioxide emissions from the state’s vehicle fleet by about 1.9 million tons a year by 2030, the governor’s executive order said.

The executive order also could help boost the state’s clean energy sector. According to a report released last week by E2, a group of business leaders and others who advocate for environmental policies that will not harm the economy, more than 57,000 Coloradans currently work in clean energy-related industries. This includes about 2,700 who work in clean vehicles businesses ranging from electric vehicle charging companies to suppliers of technology and parts for hybrid and other low-emissions vehicles.