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Colorado follows a different drummer on federal emission rules

Author: Tom Ramstack - August 24, 2018 - Updated: September 10, 2018

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Hickenlooper electric vehiclesColorado Gov. John Hickenlooper checks out an electric vehicle in January before announcing a statewide plan to encourage more charging stations. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

WASHINGTON — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment set itself on a collision course with the Trump administration this month when it proposed adopting the California standards for low emission vehicles.

The Trump administration wants to largely abandon Obama-era Clean Air Act emission standards, but some environmentally-conscious states want to keep them.

So far, it has been a matter of state discretion to set their own emission standards.

California set the highest standard with sweeping rules to reduce carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. The California standards, which have been adopted by at least 13 states, also create incentives for motorists to purchase alternative fuel vehicles.

President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has proposed eliminating the state discretion, instead forcing all states to follow emission standards that some of them oppose.

The opponents include Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who signed an executive order in June directing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to adopt the California standards.

Hickenlooper is essentially telling the EPA to leave its hands off Colorado.

“Colorado is putting protections in place to maintain current federal standards,” Jacque Montgomery, Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman, told Colorado Politics.

Hickenlooper wants the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to adopt the California standards into the Colorado Code of Regulations by Dec. 30, Montgomery said.

Other sentiment that Colorado should follow its own course on auto emissions comes from the state’s congressional and environmental leaders.

“I believe the state should continue to oppose efforts by the Trump Administration to interfere with the progress we’ve made,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada. “We need leadership at the state level that will continue to pursue clean energy initiatives that preserve our quality of life here in Colorado.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis said, “As Coloradans, we value states’ rights, and we will always choose the Colorado way over the D.C. way. The federal government has no business standing in the way of us trying to achieve the cleanest air in the nation.”

Garrett Garner-Wells, director of the Denver-based environmental group Environment Colorado, said, “We applaud the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for pushing back against the Trump administration’s irresponsible proposal and taking steps to protect our air, save consumers money and tackle climate change by exploring advanced clean car standards.”

Obama administration rules require automakers to nearly double the fuel efficiency of new cars, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles by 2025 to about 36 miles per gallon. The lower emissions are supposed to significantly cut the tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming.

The Trump administration wants to freeze the standards after 2020, which would make 30 miles per gallon an acceptable standard.

Trump’s EPA argues that if higher emission standards are required, automobiles will become more expensive by about $1,000 to comply with the regulatory costs. Motorists then would have less financial incentive to buy newer, safer cars that could prevent deadly accidents.

Trump also argues the U.S. automobile industry would get an economic boost from selling less expensive vehicles, thereby increasing sales volume.

Automakers are warning that unless the EPA’s dispute with states is resolved, their industry could be thrown into disarray by confusing rules and lawsuits that require a variety of different engines to be manufactured. The proposed rule revisions the EPA announced Aug. 2 are undergoing a 60-day public comment period before they could take effect.

The dispute over auto emissions is one of two air quality disagreements the Trump administration is facing this month.

EPA officials also want to loosen Obama-era emission standards on coal-fired power plants at a time Colorado is taking a different course by promoting alternative fuels.

This week the Environmental Protection Agency proposed giving states more discretion on regulating power plants.

Environmental groups warn that some states will try to reduce electricity costs by allowing more pollution from power plants, which contributes to global warming.

Tom Ramstack

Tom Ramstack