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Auto dealers vow to keep fighting Colorado’s move to adopt less-polluting vehicle standards

The auto dealers sued to block the policy, but failed to convince a judge that lower-emission vehicles will cause “economic injury” to their industry

Traffic backs up on Interstate 70 near Silvethorne on Jan. 7, 2018. It is a familiar scene on the main highway connecting Denver to the mountains. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert, File)
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The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association vowed to continue fighting the state’s move to adopt less-polluting vehicle standards after a judge dismissed the organization’s lawsuit for failure to prove “economic injury” or that it was even eligible to sue.

“There was no judgement on the actual claims that we made,” said Tim Jackson, president of the dealers association. “I suspect we will appeal the judge’s decision. We think he’s wrong on CADA’s standing.”

CADA is ultimately fighting Colorado’s next move, to join California’s stricter zero-emission rules. The state had to adopt California’s LEV standard first, which it did in November when a state commission approved Colorado Low Emission Automobile Regulations, or CLEAR.

Under CLEAR, the price of new lower-emission vehicles would be higher initially, but over time, consumers would save money on gas and maintenance, according to an analysis by the state’s Air Pollution Control Division.

The auto dealers’ lawsuit focused on the financial hit they’d take if Colorado stuck with California’s standard. They said transaction costs would increase for dealers and they’d lose out on the ability for “cross-border trading” of non-compliant cars. They believed car prices would be higher than non-LEVs and that manufacturers’ cost to make them would rise. 

But that didn’t fly with Denver District Court Judge Martin F. Egelhoff. The auto dealers didn’t prove that the rules had an economic impact with “cognizable injuries.” 

In his decision, Egelhoff cited a similar case by the New York Automobile Dealers Association from 1993. New York dealers, too, had challenged the state’s adoption of California’s emission standards. But the court ruled they “did not constitute injuries-in-fact sufficient to confer standing to challenge the regulations.”

New York adopted California’s low-emission and eventually California’s zero-emission rules, as well. 

In dismissing the lawsuit, the Colorado court acknowledged that the new rules impose “somewhat of a burden on interstate commerce.” But even if the injuries are “sufficiently distinguishable,” the court didn’t think the possible injuries impact a “legally protected interest.”

A Tesla Supercharger at the Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree on April 20, 2019. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

The court dismissed the suit on Monday in district court.

Colorado’s adoption of California’s low-emission standard last year had no immediate impact on vehicles. That’s because the nation’s two emissions options — California’s or the national standard — are the same. But a move last year by the Trump administration to freeze federal emissions in 2020 means automakers will have to make two versions of the same car.

Auto manufacturers want one standard. In an interview with The Associated Press, Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, called the two-standard situation “untenable.”

“That is why automakers keep urging the federal government and states to find a middle ground that raises standards year over year while aligning with market demand,” she said.

Colorado’s goals to clean up air quality and move to renewable sources and electric vehicles started last year, when Gov. John Hickenlooper decided Colorado shouldn’t abandon emissions goals because the federal government proposed a freeze. He signed an executive order to adopt California’s standard.

MORE: A first look at how Colorado will become a ZEV state: the rule, the cost, the debate

The state’s Air Pollution Control Division 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.

In January, Gov. Jared Polis signed an order for the state to join California’s stricter zero-emission mandate. If Colorado adopts the ZEV rules, they would kick in with model year 2023. Automakers would need to make sure an estimated 4.85% of their fleet for sale in Colorado runs on electricity or hydrogen fuel. That translates to 13,484 of the state’s projected new car sales for that year.

Public hearings by the Air Quality Control Commission are scheduled to take place August 13.

“We’re looking forward to the zero emission vehicle rulemaking hearing next month and continuing to improve the state’s air,” John Putnam, environmental programs director with the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment, said in an emailed statement. “We always believed we did everything correctly on the low emission vehicle rule and are glad the Court saw no merit to the suit.”

Meanwhile, also on Tuesday 23 governors — including Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis — signed a pledge backing California leaders in their showdown with the Trump administration over its plans to relax vehicle mileage standards.

The pledge by leaders of states and Puerto Rico, most of them Democrats, comes as the administration seeks to ease tougher mileage standards laid out by former President Barack Obama as part of his efforts against climate change. Legal challenges to Trump’s policy proposal threaten to disrupt the auto industry for years, and an influential auto industry trade group is renewing its appeal for the compromise.

The administration says American consumers increasingly want bigger, less-efficient SUVs and pickup trucks . It argues that demanding ever-more fuel-efficient vehicles will drive up automobile costs and keep less-safe, older vehicles on the road longer; opponents challenge that claim.

The governors’ pledge on Tuesday commits to sticking to the pre-Trump mileage goals, a program of annual tightening in mileage standards that reduce climate-changing carbon emissions.

“We will not compromise on our responsibility to protect the health of our communities, our climate, and the savings consumers stand to gain at the pump,” said the pledge, also signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “We will continue to pursue additional concrete actions to fulfill this duty and defend against any threats.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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