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Interstate 70 traffic seen on Thursday, April 21, 2022, near Denver. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission rejected a citizen petition demanding faster adoption of a  clean truck fleet, saying state air pollution staff and trucking businesses need more time to adapt rules already launched by California and other states. 

A coalition led by Colorado GreenLatinos, the City and County of Denver, NAACP Colorado and more asked the commission to draft rules and pass them by the end of this year, as air pollution officials had said they planned to do before a change of schedule delayed them into 2023. 

The coalition cited climate change and the EPA’s downgrading of the North Front Range to a “severe” category for ozone violations as more signs that low-income and high-minority communities along busy trucking lanes need immediate relief from decades of environmental injustice. They argue that finishing the rules in 2022 allows truck manufacturers to add Colorado to the list of states where they are adapting cleaner vehicles for sales by the 2026 model year. 

Commissioner Elise Jones said she agreed and wants the clean trucks rules done before 2023. Jones said a series of delays in important state air pollution rules amount to “environmental racism,” and that “justice delayed is justice denied.” 

A majority of commissioners said they agreed lower income communities deserve relief from Colorado’s historic air pollution, but that the air pollution staff and other agencies in the Polis administration need more time to reach consensus and fit California’s clean trucks rules to Colorado. They also said given how fast Colorado is buying up zero-emission electric vehicles — faster than the percentages in state rules passed earlier — they are confident state businesses will adopt clean trucks quickly enough to make a difference in air pollution. 

“Faster may not be better,” said commission chair Anthony Gerber. “It’s important to get these rules right. It’s not waving a wand.” 

The groups who brought the petition for Thursday’s monthly AQCC meeting were disappointed. 

“In spite of overwhelming evidence that greenhouse gas and small particulate emissions from trucks are poisoning our air and harming our communities, the AQCC chose to further delay action that would make a real difference to improve our lives and our climate,” said Colorado GreenLatinos Director Ean Tafoya.

In their petition to the commission demanding a speedup, the coalition said a delay would mean  “as many as 160,000 model year 2026 vehicles sold in Colorado would not be subject to the heightened pollution standards and would emit greater amounts of air pollution every year they operate.”

Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency had weighed in with its own letter of support, saying, “Moving as expeditiously as we can to enact policy that will drive down greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate other air pollutants is paramount to fighting the climate crisis and advancing environmental justice. We believe it is important that the communities most impacted by transportation emissions be heard in state proceedings.” 

Jones first moved to reject the petition, saying she agreed with it but thought a new resolution by the commission directing state staff to schedule a rulemaking by October would be even faster than the petition procedure. 

But commissioners and the Air Pollution Control Division staff said they didn’t believe the commission has any power over division staff to direct their work in that way. Those commissioners said the staff, Gov. Jared Polis, and other agencies deserve credit for the work they’ve done so far passing restrictions on oil and gas emissions, sales of fossil fuel vehicles and more. 

“We’ve got a history of working pretty well with all the stakeholders,” Commissioner Randy Ahrens said. “Moving toward a consensus rather than ramming it down throats.” The division needs time, Ahrens added, to look at the California plan and “make it benefit Colorado.”

The most restrictive form of clean truck rules already passed by California mandates that a certain percentage of new trucks sold produce zero emissions, either through electric engines or engines powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Similar rules are now in effect for Colorado requiring an escalating percentage of new car sales to be electric, or “zero emission.” 

Environmental groups and some AQCC commissioners have said the clean trucks rule delay into 2023 is just one of a series of rules slowdowns that put off real progress on local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado. They also cite delays to rules for cuts in smokestack emissions from large industrial operations, and the scrapping in 2021 of a plan to cut commuting and work-trip miles at large employers

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...