Colo. to adopt low-emissions vehicle standards under Hickenlooper order

Authors: Erin Prater, Joey Bunch - June 19, 2018 - Updated: June 20, 2018

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)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order Tuesday committing the state to the adoption of low emission vehicle (LEV) standards in an effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 percent by 2025.

Colorado joins 12 other states and the District of Columbia, led by California, to take up emissions standards tougher than federal requirements to reduce vehicle emissions that contribute greenhouse gases and ultimately to climate change, advocates say. The measures will push automakers to adopt better clean-car technology to serve the growing marking for low emission vehicles, they contend.

The California rule requires that more than 1 in 7 vehicles sold in the state have zero emissions, meaning electric vehicles. Costs and savings are politically debatable and nebulous, given the health benefits, fuel savings and falling vehicle prices as demand for electric vehicles increase.

Colorado becomes the first interior U.S. state to join the list of states to opt out from under federal standards and adopt their own. Of course, if Colorado voters elect a Republican in November, another executive order could undo the program. Political change led to the repeal of the standard in Arizona, Florida and New Mexico.

Meanwhile, last month California and 17 other states sued the Trump administration over its proposal to roll back an Obama administration standard for auto-emissions, which also would require vehicles to get significantly higher gas mileage by 2025.

Hickenlooper’s order initiates a rule-making process. First, it instructs the state Department of Public Health and Environment to develop the rule to establish Colorado’s LEV program. That rule then would proposed to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission in August. If the commission adopts it, the standard could become a state regulation by the end of the year, according to the Governor’s Office.

“Colorado has a choice,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “This executive order calls for the state to adopt air quality standards that will protect our quality of life in Colorado. Low emissions vehicles are increasingly popular with consumers and are better for our air. Every move we make to safeguard our environment is a move in the right direction.”

Read the executive order here.

In a presentation to the state Air Quality Control Commission last November, the state health department said the California program required a 75 percent reduction in non-methane organic gas and nitrogen oxide emissions, plus a 90 percent drop in particulate matter, such as dust or soot, all key ingredients of smog.

“Federal fuel economy emission standards are on track to save American families money at the pump, create jobs and boost manufacturing—the Trump administration should not block this progress,” Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Denver, said in a statement. “I applaud Colorado for beginning the process of joining California and other states in implementing low emission vehicle standards. This is the right decision for families that will save on gas money and businesses that count on America’s competitive edge.”

Howard Geller, executive director of the Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, called the decision historic.

“The adoption of light-duty fuel economy standards by the federal government is one of the largest single steps ever taken to advance energy efficiency,” he said in a statement. “The Trump administration is moving to dramatically weaken these standards, despite an extensive record that shows that federal clean car rules not only protect public health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also create jobs and save consumers thousands of dollars per household.

“SWEEP strongly supports Governor Hickenlooper’s move to adopt clean car standards which will protect consumers and clean air in Colorado, and we encourage other states across the region and the nation to adopt these standards.”

Tim Jackson, president and CEO of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, said Colorado shouldn’t emulate California, given the realities of the market.

“Our state is fundamentally different, because of Colorado’s mountainous terrain, winter weather, outdoor industries and adventurous recreational pursuits, three in four consumers here choose vehicles from the light truck category (which includes SUVs and AWDs),” he said. “California sales are closer to half light trucks and half cars.”

“Today’s new passenger vehicles – including all technologies — are the cleanest and most fuel efficient ever. Every time we replace an old vehicle with a new car, Colorado’s air quality benefits. Colorado’s new car dealers have accelerated this process by recycling more than 3,400 trade-in vehicles through our Clear the Air Foundation. Adopting California regulations will raise the price of new vehicles, forcing Colorado consumers to keep driving older, dirtier vehicles longer. That takes Colorado’s air quality in the wrong direction.”

State Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, said he wasn’t sure if Hickenlooper was governor Colorado of California, based on the executive order.

“The state of California’s average gas prices, utility costs and cost of living is dramatically higher than the state of Colorado’s, which is why these policies should not be adopted — and certainly not by the overreaching pen of the governor,” Scott said in a statement.

The Auto Alliance, an advocacy group for the automobile industry, said it had done polling showing most Coloradans don’t support the requirements “being dictated by California.”

“Importing California’s standards could saddle Coloradans with a huge financial burden without providing any additional contributions to the environment,” the alliance stated, citing higher fuel prices to meet carbon-neutral standards.

“If state regulators and policymakers move forward with adopting California’s standards on zero emission vehicles, Coloradans would be looking at paying millions, if not billions, of dollars to create the kind of infrastructure that would encourage people to buy these vehicles,” the Auto Alliance warned.

Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, released a list of quotes from groups supporting the low emission vehicle program:

“Motor vehicles are a significant contributor to air pollution and climate change. As the federal government continues to roll back environmental protections to appease industry interests, it’s up to the states to take action. Colorado can’t — and won’t — be left behind. Governor Hickenlooper’s executive order ensures that Colorado is a leader in the nation and shows that Coloradans are committed to cutting air pollution for the sake of our health, economy, and environment.”
– Maria Handley, acting executive director, Conservation Colorado

“Transportation is the number two source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado — and number one source of emissions in the nation. Adopting clean car standards means fewer bad air days and a better quality of life for citizens across our state.”
– Garrett Garner-Wells, director of Environment Colorado

“Inefficient cars are just wasteful — they cost consumers every time we go to the pump and they hurt our health when they produce unnecessary pollution. Clean car standards result in more fuel efficient and cleaner vehicles, which benefit our wallets and our personal health. As technology advances, we need to take advantage of even cleaner, more fuel efficient cars. That’s why we applaud Governor Hickenlooper’s action to make Colorado a leader around fuel efficient, cleaner cars.”
– Danny Katz, director of CoPIRG (Colorado Public Interest Research Group)

“With the Trump administration abdicating leadership on cleaning up tailpipe pollution and saving consumers money on gas, states need advanced vehicle standards to ensure their citizens get to drive the cleanest, most affordable cars on the market. This action will help ensure Coloradans still get clean air and cleaner cars.”
– Noah Long, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council

“Governor Hickenlooper deserves credit for taking bold action to make Colorado the first state in the Mountain West to adopt the Clean Car Standards. As the federal government continues to favor corporate interests over the public good, Governor Hickenlooper’s action will help save families from paying extra at the gas pump and help keep pollution out of our Rocky Mountain air.”
– Zach Pierce, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Colorado

Erin Prater

Erin Prater

Erin Prater is Colorado Politics' digital editor. She is a multimedia journalist with 15 years of experience writing, editing and designing for newspapers, magazines, websites and publishing houses. Her previous positions include military reporter at The Gazette, general assignment reporter at The Huerfano County (Colo.) World, copy editor at David C. Cook publishing house and adjunct mass communication instructor at Pueblo Community College. Her bylines include The New York Times Upfront, The Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Military Spouse magazine and Omaha Magazine (Omaha, Neb.). Her syndicated bylines include The Denver Post,, and wire services.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.