After unsuccessfully arguing against joining California’s low-emission vehicle standard, a group of local car sellers has sued the state to prevent the regulation from moving forward.
In the complaint filed in District Court in Denver, the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association said the state’s Air Quality Control Commission rushed through the process and failed to follow several statutory requirements, including studying the economic and social effect specifically on Colorado.
“We’re the state with the highest and lowest roads in the country,” said Paul M. Seby, a lawyer with Greenberg Traurig representing the automobile dealers. “We’re also a rural state where we have a large agriculture economy and we’re a truck state. … California is not. They have large population centers and people buy smaller cars. That’s fine, but we’re not California.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health and Environment said the state is unable to comment.
Irene Gutierrez, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council who worked with Colorado supporters, said the process took months and public hearings gave all parties a chance to chime in multiple times.
“The auto dealers are making the same comments and same arguments they raised in the Colorado proceeding, which we believe we thoroughly and conclusively rebutted,” she said. “… A lot of their arguments is about the state failing to follow the procedural process. Our view is the state has done what it needed to do to get the regulation in place.”
Automobile dealers were some of the loudest opponents during the five-month process as the commission held public hearings to consider adopting California’s LEV standard. It passed in November, about five months after then-Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order to join the California standard. (Gov. Jared Polis made a similar move on Jan. 17 for the state to adopt California’s standard for electric vehicles.)
The Air Pollution Control Division did present its economic impact report last fall. Accounting for technology automakers needed to implement in vehicles to meet lower emission standards, the LEV standard could push average new car prices up $1,138 starting with model year 2022. But better gas mileage would lower fuel costs and offset higher car prices by $1,216 to $1,682 in savings from fuel and other maintenance costs. It would also help Colorado reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 30 million tons through 2030.
The Automobile Dealers Association countered that in its research, the per-vehicle cost would increase more than $2,000 and cause a 4 percent to 9.4 percent decline in sales. The higher price tag would encourage consumers to buy higher-polluting used cars or buy them out of state.
“This is encouraging people to buy older, less emission-controlled vehicles, and this isn’t a positive thing for the environment,” Seby said.
Since the 1960s, California has been allowed to set its own air quality standards because of the heavy pollution in the state. States have since been able to choose whether to follow California’s rules or the nation’s. In 2012, President Barack Obama persuaded major automakers to step up their fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025, effectively creating one national standard.
Colorado was on track to meet the same low emission regulation as California. But the Trump administration said emission goals were too strict and proposed freezing them in 2020. So, for states wishing to maintain the earlier goals after 2020, they needed to join California’s. Colorado became the 13th state plus Washington, D.C., to join California’s standard.
“There’s no question that fuel efficiency standards are what drives this,” said Jacob Smith, executive director for Colorado Communities for Climate Action. “We know when those standards go up, families, small businesses and local government, every one spends less money on the life of the vehicle.”
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