Colorado Progresses On Low Emission Vehicle Standards

By: Bryce Carter

On August 16th the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission unanimously agreed to develop a rule to meet California’s Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standard to be considered for review in November. In front of an overflowing hearing of mostly supporters, the Commission also agreed to investigate a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standard with a requirement for manufacturers to sell more electric vehicles with potential penalties for not meeting targets. These decisions come after Governor Hickenlooper instructed for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to write language for the Commission to consider after the Trump Administration’s announcement to pursue rolling back the goals of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard.

Four Tesla Electric Vehicles at Columbus, Texas, Supercharger.    Ed Uthman   , Flickr

Four Tesla Electric Vehicles at Columbus, Texas, Supercharger. Ed Uthman, Flickr

Background of CAFE and Proposed Changes

The Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the new CAFE standards in April of this year, setting out to curtail benchmarks established during the Obama administration. The proposal will reduce the regulatory standard from 54.5 miles per gallon per fleet average by 2025 to leveling out at 37 miles per gallon in 2020, including the use of credit trading for manufacturers to meet goals. According to EPA documentation, this year’s regulatory compliance target is 38.3 miles per gallon. Credits from electric vehicles have helped meet these targets, with Tesla alone having likely sold more than $700 million worth of credits by mid-2017.

The agencies have cited unrealistic goals and public safety for the reasoning behind this change. The proposed rulemaking is focused around several highly questionable if not bizzare claims including:

  • newer vehicle models may be lightweighted which increases the likelihood for on-road fatalities,

  • lower gas mileage results in higher fuel costs and thus less driving,

  • the upfront cost-savings for less fuel efficient vehicles allows for a greater turnover for newer vehicle purchases with advanced safety features,

  • and there would be no noticeable impact on overall emissions.

Of course many of these claims are being debated, and California has taken a lead with an 18-state coalition lawsuit against the proposed changes.

Why California Standards?

A unique regulatory loophole has allowed for two parallel vehicle emission standards to exist between the federal government and the state of California. A waiver was afforded by Congress in the Clean Air Act to support California to address the then-unique difficulties the state faced with smog pollution at the time. This resulted in the eventual creation of California’s Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) Standards, pollution safeguards now adopted by 13 other states representing 40% of the American population. Some automakers had faced tremendous pressure and political contention to meet these dueling standards (the aforementioned Tesla excluded), but this was relieved when they were virtually aligned once again with the Obama administration’s update to federal CAFE minimums. In addition to significantly reducing these federal minimums, the Trump Administration is seeking to also withdraw California’s waiver.

EVs are Essential to Colorado’s Climate Commitment

Colorado became a member of the U.S. Climate Alliance last year, committing to meet the Paris Climate Agreement of a 26% reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 from 2005 levels. Governor Hickenlooper has stated the current fuel standards are essential to meeting this goal, and ordered the state to work toward adopting the California LEV by the end of the year assuming the federal standard will be rolled back. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, adoption of the California LEV would cost consumers an additional $954 per vehicle, but save $3,412 through fuel efficiency over its lifetime. In addition, statewide greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 2 million tons by 2030.

Public advocacy from the Commission’s hearing resulted in a separate consideration for adopting California’s zero-emission electric vehicle standard, requiring vehicle manufacturers to sell a certain amount of EV cars and trucks through a credit system or face penalties. Whether or not a ZED Standard is created, Colorado has already established itself as a national leader for electric vehicles from its favorable tax credits to rapidly expanding infrastructure. The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission will consider the LEV Standard in November, and hold an initial proceeding for the ZEV standard in December followed by a potential rulemaking for it in March 2019.