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Colorado votes 8-0 to join California’s low-emission vehicle standard

Opponents say the adoption is unnecessary and will lead to higher prices. But a state agency's research shows $1,682 in fuel savings and greenhouse gas reduction by 2031.

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Update at 2:40 p.m. on Nov. 16, 2018: The Commission voted 8-0 to approve Colorado’s adoption of the low-emission vehicle standard. 

Colorado took a solid step Friday to commit to improving air quality by unanimously adopting a low-emission vehicle standard created by the state of California.

The state Air Quality Control Commission spent two days hearing testimony and feedback from the public and the auto and environment industries before voting 8-0 to approve the regulation. The vote came in around 2:40 p.m. Friday.

Commissioner Peter Butler said he didn’t like the idea that the state would be adopting California’s law. But he felt he had no choice since the federal standard is in limbo and would weaken existing vehicle emissions standards.

“They (the federal government) has forced our hand,”
Butler said.

Commissioner Tom Gonzales recused himself because he recently started working for Larimer County, which testified Friday.

The two-day hearing focused on future vehicles that will be sold in the state. Up for a vote was whether Colorado would join California’s low-emissions vehicle standard or the federal one.

The two have coexisted since the ‘70s when California was granted a waiver. In 2012, the federal standard was aligned with California during the Obama administration. But the national standard now faces a modification that could freeze emissions standards in 2021, effectively ditching previously approved lower-emission goals set through 2025.

In June, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order to adopt California’s stricter standard, which is followed by about a dozen other states. That’s where the Air Quality Commission came in.

The nine-member board is charged with making rules for the proposal — called CLEAR, for Colorado Low Emission Automobile Regulations.

The commission relied on input from the state Air Pollution Control Division, which did a cost analysis on adopting CLEAR.  With the California standard, the average price of a model year 2025 vehicle would increase $1,138. But over the life of the car, owners would offset the price increase and save from $1,216 to $1,682 on fuel and other maintenance costs. The move would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 30 million tons through 2030.

“This is not some radical new program that we’re proposing here. This is the status quo. These are the standards proposed at the federal level. But for the fact that the current administration and (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) are proposing a rollback of the standards, we wouldn’t be here,” said Garry Kaufman, the division’s director. “The current standards are cost effective and will likely lead to a net savings for consumers, not a net cost.”

Nikaash Maheshwari, a 17-year-old senior from Fairview High School in Boulder, tells the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission why they should vote to adopt a low-emissions vehicle standard: “This isn’t a vote for your future, it’s a vote for mine.” (Photo provided by 
Nikaash Maheshwari) 

Public comments began Thursday morning with a quartet of students from Fairview High School in Boulder, all members of the school’s Net Zero Environmental Club. The teenagers hit one reason especially hard: limit car emissions to keep the air cleaner for future generations.

“The consequences of climate change affects everyone. But it’s us, the world’s youth who will pay the highest price. We’re the ones who will be dealing with the increasingly harmful effects of climate change for years to come,” said Camila Shannon, a 17-year-old high school senior. “… Transportation is currently the largest source of greenhouse gas in the United States and its environmental effects go far beyond the pollution of the atmosphere.”

Added Nikaash Maheshwari, also 17 and a senior: “The future is now, not in 20 years. This isn’t a vote for your future, it’s a vote for mine.”

MORE: Here’s why more electric vehicles, including a future Subaru, may become available in Colorado — or not

Dozens of people spoke out to encourage or discourage the commission from approving the proposed standard. Supporters pointed to the lack of alternative-fuel cars in the state, the impact on climate change and Colorado’s poor air quality and its failure to meet federal ozone air quality standards.

Opponents said this is unnecessary since the federal rule hasn’t been overturned yet and automakers already make cars that are much cleaner than years ago. Others mentioned car prices will rise and the targeted vehicles aren’t as popular in a high-altitude and outdoors-loving state like Colorado. Consumers would hold on to older, more polluting cars longer, they said.

“I’m a car dealer. I hope I don’t get any arrows in my back for that because what we really do is put cleaner, safer cars with better fuel economy on the roads each and every day,” said Don Hicks, with Shortline Auto Group in Aurora. “… But for most people, the least interesting are electric and plug-in hybrids. There are great incentives from state and federal government and yet those cars are sitting on the lot. Mandating this for people to buy is not the answer. Let’s get a federal standard instead.”

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission meeting held Nov. 15, 2018, tackled whether Colorado should join California’s low-emission vehicle standard. The meeting in the Sabine room at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment office in Glendale had some empty seats, but a crowd for most of the eight-hour session. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)  

In favor of the proposal,  Alyssa Tsuchiya, a legislative associate representing the Union of Concerned Scientists, pointed out that regulations provide certainty to technologists who are developing future vehicles. And it’s critical for Colorado to take care of its air and limit greenhouse gases.

“If the existing strong greenhouse gas emission standards are maintained in Colorado, our analysis shows that by 2030, the standards would mitigate global warming emissions equivalent to three times those from providing electricity to the entire city of Boulder,” Tsuchiya said. “Improving the efficiency of new vehicles is especially critical for lower- and middle-income families, and rural drivers, who spend a greater share of their income on transportation. Moreover, the standards are driving innovation and giving consumers more fuel-efficient choices in every class, including large SUVs and pickup trucks.”

Others oppose adopting California’s rule while the federal standard is in limbo.

“What you’re being asked today, there are two regulations, federal and California. Those regulations as they exist are the same. There is no difference in those regulations,” said Steven Douglas, director of environmental affairs for the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, adding that California is working with federal regulators to see if a compromise can be reached to keep a national rule intact. “… There is no benefit to adopting the regulations today, but there would be an administrative cost. … We recommend postponing the decision until the EPA issues the final rule.”

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