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Tesla Supercharger at the Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree on April 20, 2019. Special charging stalls for electric vehicles are only for Tesla's. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado and Denver joined 22 other states and three other cities on Wednesday to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for relaxing clean car standards that could impact the state’s new zero-emissions vehicle policy.

In March, the EPA announced its final rule, which reverses changes made during the Obama administration to create one auto-emission standard nationwide. Since the late 1960s, there have been two: the national standard and California’s stricter emissions standard, which Colorado adopted last year. The EPA’s SAFE Vehicle rule eases emissions standards and supports revoking California’s policy.

But for a state like Colorado, which already struggles with air quality and ground-level ozone pollution, it doesn’t make sense to not reduce pollution where possible, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said.

“In Colorado where we manage our water, and we work collaboratively with neighbors like California, climate change is not a theoretical looming challenge. It is there today, forcing us to deal with less natural snowpack than ever before,” Weiser said during a media call. “So addressing carbon emissions is an imperative. Generations are going to ask why we weren’t more vigilant. This is vigilance today, fighting for a common sense rule.” 

MORE: Here are all the lawsuits against the Trump administration Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has joined

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asks the court to review the actions of the EPA and the Department of Transportation and their administrators regarding the final rule. 

In a statement, the EPA said it does not comment on pending litigation. But, the agency added, “As finalized, the SAFE provides a sensible, single national program that strikes the right regulatory balance, protects our environment, and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry, while supporting our economy and the safety of American families.”

California AG Xavier Becerra begged to differ with the EPA’s policy that it supports a safer America.

“Vehicles are the biggest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in America. And pollution-related respiratory illnesses like asthma, make people more susceptible to COVID-19,” Becerra said during the call. “The federal government, the Trump administration, should be doing everything it can to combat this crisis, not add to it.”

He also shared concerns that the Trump administration ignored documents of serious flaws EPA staff had with the final rule, which was reported last week by The Washington Post.

“This is not the first time this administration has tried to hide important documents in important cases. They did the same thing to us in the Census lawsuit (regarding citizenship) that we went through and ultimately we won all the way in the Supreme Court, where they, the administration, are now having to pay a penalty for having withheld critical documents in that litigation,” Becerra said. “It’s not surprising. It is disturbing. And if it further goes to show the weakness of their case and so we intend to get every document that should be available.” 

Last year, Colorado became the 10th state to join Californai’s ZEV program. In doing so, Colorado is requiring automakers to sell more zero-emission vehicles starting in 2023. For an automaker, that means about 4.9% of its cars sold in Colorado in 2023 must be zero-emission vehicles, and 6.1% by 2030.

Under the ZEV mandate, the majority of vehicles sold in Colorado would largely still be conventional gas-powered vehicles. But if the state hits those numbers, the switch will result in a reduction of 3.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gases between 2023 to 2030. 

“Colorado is joining this lawsuit challenging the administration’s illegal action in order to defend our state’s fuel emission standards that are stronger than the national standards,” Weiser said in a statement. “By making more zero-emission vehicles available to Coloradans, we can address climate change and protect our air quality.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. (Pool photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The SAFE vehicles act requires automakers to improve fuel economy on the order of 1.5% a year instead of the previously anticipated 5%, according to rule and the AGs. States represented included California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. 

Also on the call was Dana Nessel, Michigan’s Attorney General who said that the Big Three automakers more than anything “want predictability and they want stability,” which won’t happen as California fights to keep its exemption to the national standard. Last year, Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW agreed with California to reduce auto emissions so the automakers wouldn’t have to build separate lineups of cars to meet state and national standards.

But the Big Three are unlikely to join the lawsuit because, Nessel said, “Frankly, no one who’s affiliated with those companies wants to wake up and see themselves on the wrong end of a mean tweet by President Trump.”

Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...