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How EPA’s rollback of auto mileage rule would impact Colorado

Author: Mark Jaffe - March 30, 2018 - Updated: April 5, 2018

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Cars on Interstate 70 in western Colorado. (iStock)

The rollback of federal auto-mileage standards — expected by the Trump administration in the coming days — could erase some of the progress being made in Colorado on cutting air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, according to analyses by environmental groups.

“Having this rule yanked out from under us will send Colorado backward,” said Will Toor, transportation program director at the Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has said that the rules set under former President Barack Obama — aimed at improving mileage and cutting emissions linked to climate change—are too burdensome on the auto industry.

A draft rule has been submitted the White House Office of Management and Budget and a determination is expected by April 1.

There have been several initiatives this year aimed at cutting the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions, including an executive order from Gov. John Hickenlooper seeking to reduce the emissions by more than 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025 and a plan by Xcel Energy Inc., the state’s largest power utility, to close two coal-fired power plants and add more wind and solar energy.

A rollback in the motor vehicle efficiency and mileage targets will undermine the state efforts, Toor said.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a national environmental advocacy group, did an analysis of the impact a freeze of the standards would have on Colorado. The efficiency rules are set to increase each year reaching 54.5 miles per gallon for small cars and light trucks by 2025.

The analysis assumed that the standards were frozen at the 2020 levels. The Pruitt plan reportedly focuses on model years 2022 to 2025.

The EDF analysis estimated that the looser standard would save $600 on the price of a new car, but over the life of the vehicle a Colorado driver would pay about $4,600 extra for gasoline. That fuel charge would vary depending on the price of fuel.

The freeze on standards would result each year in an additional 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, in Colorado by 2030, growing to 3.8 million tons a year by 2040.

The increase in carbon emissions from cars would substantially offset the 4.1 million tons a year in carbon savings from Xcel’s plan, Toor said.

The Obama “clean car” standards were promulgated in 2012 and — according to an analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington, D.C.-based science advocacy group —  since then have saved Coloradans $500 million “due to strong fuel economy and global warming emissions standards” and by 2030 would have saved 57 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

In addition, motor transport is the primary source of the gases that form ozone pollution in the corridor stretching between Denver’s southern suburbs and the city of Boulder, according to a study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder.

“What about cleaner air and lower costs don’t you like?” Toor said.

The auto industry has kept pace with the  mileage requirements, but has voiced concern about rules under the final years of the plan.

Less than 4 percent of current models meet the 2022 targets, while sales of the most energy-efficient vehicles remains low, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents many of the world’s largest automakers.

The pressure for mileage improvement is greatest on SUVs and light trucks, the industry’s top sellers, which would be required to improve mileage by 61 percent to meet the projected federal standards, the alliance said.

“Steeper targets lie ahead. Substantially greater consumer purchases of the most energy-efficient vehicles on sale today will be needed to meet these projections,” the alliance said.

Mark Jaffe

Mark Jaffe

Mark Jaffe has covered energy, environment and government issues for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bloomberg News and The Denver Post. He was a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and studied environmental economics as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. He is the author of two books, "And No Birds Sing, The story of an ecological disaster in a tropical paradise" and "The Gilded Dinosaur-The fossil war between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the rise of American science."