California emissions standard could do more harm than good for Colorado

Author: Jeff Cummings - May 18, 2018 - Updated: May 18, 2018

Jeff Cummings
Jeff Cummings

Recently there has been a push by some groups in Colorado to adopt California’s low-emission vehicle (LEV) standard.  Auto dealers and others have raised legitimate concerns about how this change could impact consumers and our overall economy.

We can relate well to these concerns about adopting a California standard for our state.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has for years established its own state diesel emission standards for heavy-duty trucks to address that state’s air quality problem.  The CARB not only applied these tougher standards to trucks and trailers based in their own state but also to anyone coming into California.

Because California has two of the major U.S. ports and also is a very populous state with many exports and imports, many Colorado trucking companies must deliver and pick up freight there.  As a result, those Colorado-based companies bore the additional costs of the CARB requirements.

While the target of the CARB’s standards was California, it translated into significant costs for people and businesses well beyond that state as trucking operators were effectively mandated to comply if they wished to do business there.

The increased cost to our industry led to many fleets delaying or deferring altogether the purchase of new vehicles — trucks that are typically cleaner and safer than the vehicles they replace.

A similar dynamic takes place with passenger vehicles.  The average age of a vehicle in Colorado is 12.5 years old. Further, the average age of vehicles in our state continues to grow with one of the main reasons being the cost of purchasing a new vehicle.

Like new heavy-duty trucks, new cars are safer and cleaner than the cars they replace, a result of continuous technological improvements. By adopting a California LEV standard and further increasing the cost of new cars, do we contribute to further raising the average age of vehicles as more people defer purchases?

This issue poses a pertinent public policy question for our state.  Should we expend the additional time and effort on establishing a new tougher standard that will marginally improve already very low-emitting new cars and in turn raise the cost of these vehicles significantly? Or, should the state focus on removing older vehicles that are not only much higher-emitting but also less safe.

If we examine what would provide the highest return on investment and greatest overall benefits to the public, one would easily conclude that our focus should be on removing the oldest vehicles from our highways, first. These old vehicles may pollute nearly 200 times more than new vehicles, so the benefits of retiring them are clear.

We also need to realize that the increased costs associated with moving to a California LEV standard may have unanticipated consequences. Many new vehicles have safety options such as collision-avoidance systems, lane departure and adjacent lane recognition. As we raise the base vehicle costs due to the LEV standard, do we make it less likely or affordable for people to acquire these valuable safety options?

Both the trucking and automobile industry are committed to improved air quality. Our industries have made greater strides than almost any other industry in our nation today. Our commitment to cleaner-,burning vehicles remains firm and the trend toward lower emissions will continue. Let’s not though force an ill-advised strategy that may do more damage than good to our state.

Jeff Cummings

Jeff Cummings

Jeff Cummings is the president and CEO of Duffy Crane and Hauling, one of Colorado’s oldest companies. He is also a past chairman and current member of the board of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which includes over 600 companies involved in the trucking industry in Colorado.