Energy, Environment, Politics

Hick’s executive overreach on vehicle emissions means costly mandates for Coloradans

Gov. Hickenlooper recently signed an executive order directing his appointees at the Air Quality Control Commission to promulgate a new rule adopting California’s Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards for new vehicle sales in Colorado beginning in 2022. If successful, the governor’s plan will very likely cost Coloradans billions of dollars in higher vehicle prices and taxpayer subsidies.

Colorado has in recent times been very successful in developing sensible clean air policies that work for our state. Finding “Colorado solutions” has been the bipartisan watchword guiding clean air goals and policies. Now, however, at the very end of his term, our governor suddenly has discovered the virtue of California “solutions” that just don’t make sense for Colorado.

Does Colorado really need to become more like California, when we’re well ahead of meeting already agreed-upon federal clean air standards? Is it appropriate for the governor to unilaterally be pushing such a radical agenda, in the last months of his term, without bothering to consult lawmakers or the people we represent?

The short answer is “no, these mandates aren’t appropriate or necessary.”

Colorado’s current EPA-approved emission goals and industry-adopted innovations have gone a long way toward helping us fight air pollution – for example, eliminating the infamous “brown cloud” that once could be seen along the Front Range. That’s why it’s puzzling that we are now considering importing unrealistic and unnecessary emissions standards from California.

Hickenlooper’s executive order is directed at Low Emission Vehicle standards and does not mention a “zero emissions vehicles” (ZEV) mandate, but neither did he rule it out. In fact, the supposed need for “action now” references ZEVs throughout. ZEV mandates would require that by 2025, 10 percent of all vehicles sold in Colorado are electric vehicles that plug in for energy and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — a nearly impossible goal given current ZEV sales of less than 1 percent. So, let’s hope that California’s ZEV goals remain outside the governor’s plan.

Is subsidizing the purchase and maintenance of zero-pollution cars and trucks the most effective way to reduce air pollution? I don’t think so. To illustrate how expensive all of this can be, take a look at California’s recent yearly budgets. The state has allocated $20 million annually for the past five years to develop and deploy hydrogen fueling stations. The governor there also recently signed an executive order to establish a $2.5 billion investment plan to build the kind of infrastructure that would help the state meet its mandate.

To meet California’s ZEV standards, we would have to install nearly 12,000 charging stations by 2025, which would cost millions of dollars. And if you think there is any room for adapting these mandates to make them work for Colorado, think again: Once adopted as EPA-approved emission standards, Colorado will not be allowed to deviate from them.

Equally puzzling about the governor’s regulatory plan, which he wants finalized by Dec. 30, is that it’s a reaction to a possible change in the EPA emissions mandates that remains only hypothetical. The EPA hasn’t officially proposed its vehicle emissions goals for 2022-2025, and 16 states have filed suit to block those changes. Doesn’t it make more sense to wait and see what the EPA actually does in 2019 before instituting such radical and costly changes in Colorado’s emissions standards?

A far better alternative is to stick with the regulatory policies that have been working well for Colorado, and to let auto industry innovation and market forces drive the pace of progress. Colorado already is one of the top six states when it comes to the sales of zero emissions vehicles, including the 13 states that have adopted California’s zero emissions standards — showing that industry innovation and changing consumer preferences can over time achieve similar goals without the need for unnecessarily costly government interventions and market manipulations.

There simply is no public demand for these potentially costly new mandates. And Colorado is making environmental gains without them. So I strongly urge the governor to slow down, act democratically rather than unilaterally, and produce a credible cost-benefit analysis demonstrating the practical value of these mandates before committing Coloradans to a course of action that could cost us dearly as consumers and taxpayers.

State Senator Jack Tate represents Senate District 27 (Arapahoe County) in the Colorado General Assembly.


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