Polis Electric Vehicle

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis plugs an electric vehicle into a charging station before announcing executive orders aimed at increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles on state roads at a press conference Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, in Denver.

The Air Quality Control Commission on Friday adopted a proposal to implement a "zero emission vehicle" program that would mandate an increase in statewide sales of electric vehicles by 2023. 

The proposal was approved on an 8-1 vote.

The new zero-emission standard requires automakers to sell more than 5% zero-emission vehicles by 2023 and more than 6% zero-emission vehicles by 2025. The standard is based on credits given for each electric vehicle sold, depending on the vehicle’s zero-emission range.

The new program does not require consumers to purchase electric vehicles.

The vote on Friday followed three days of testimony about the program, mandated by the first executive order signed by Gov. Jared Polis in January. The hearings drew more than five dozen witnesses, all but a handful in favor of the program.

However, the commission noted that the zero-emission idea was already on its radar last year while it was working on low emission vehicle standards mandated by an executive order from then-Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The proposal adopted Friday was an alternate to one suggested by the state's Air Pollution Control Division, part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The alternate proposal is a compromise crafted by the Colorado Department of Transportation, the state's energy office, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers.

The state already provides a $5,000 tax credit for those who purchase electric vehicles.

Under the proposal, automakers would get "early action" credits for sales during model years 2021 and 2022. According to a Transportation Department presentation, those credits would encourage marketing efforts and more availability in the electric vehicle market prior to the regulation's start date of 2023.

It also should resolve the threat of litigation, which stalled the implementation of the LEV standards in 2018. (That lawsuit, filed by the Colorado Auto Dealers Association, has since been dismissed.)

Colorado becomes the eleventh state to incorporate zero emission vehicle standards, according to a statement from Consumer Reports, which backs the program.

Commissioners raised concerns Friday about exactly how the program will operate and who would be subject to the regulations.

Commissioner Tom Gonzales, who serves as public health director for the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, said after the vote that he had no idea how the staff of the Air Pollution Control Division will implement the program. Gonzales supported the alternate proposal adopted by the commission, stating that "I don't think this will do any harm; it's minimal at best."

He had previously noted that the air quality panel has, in the past, regulated only stationary sources. The enforcement for the new rule is really on auto manufacturers, Gonzales said.

Part of Thursday's testimony included comments from a Glenwood Springs Ford dealer, who said he took a loss on electric vehicles. Not one sold in a 400-day period, he said.

The Colorado Auto Dealers Association (CADA) also has pointed out that so far in 2019, 80% of vehicle sales were light trucks and SUVs, an area in which electric power technology has not yet been made available by most of the major manufacturers.

Commissioner Charles Grobe of Craig noted that electric vehicles have limited range and that worsens in cold weather. At 20 degrees, he said, an electric vehicle has only a 41% range. If the vehicle has a stated range of 200 miles, a person in Craig couldn't drive to Steamboat Springs and back without recharging.

"That hits home," Grobe said.

But while people in Craig do want electric vehicles, Grobe also raised concerns about the vehicles sitting unsold in dealer lots. 

Grobe, who also supported the alternate proposal, explained the main purpose of the zero-emissions program is really for the Front Range, although the commission makes decisions that impact the entire state.

Among those more enthusiastic about the proposal is Auden Schendler from Aspen, who said that at any other time, he would favor the market's evolution on electric vehicles.

But "this isn't any other time. There's a climate crisis," he said. "This is a modest proposal in the face of a critical threat ... in 20 years our children will thank us."

Commissioner Elise Jones of Boulder said she views the program "through the lens of a climate crisis" and which proposal "will get us there faster."

She noted there's a strong demand for electric vehicles in Boulder, and that the percentage requirement — 5% of vehicle sales must be from electric vehicles beginning with the 2023 model year — will be met just by what happens on the Front Range.

"I don't see this impacting rural Colorado," she said.

Polis weighed in on the commission's adoption of the alternate proposal, which he had previously endorsed.

“It’s only the beginning. Colorado must continue to reduce smog and increase consumer choice,” he said.

Consumer Reports' Shannon Baker-Branstetter said in a statement that Coloradans "want to save money and reduce air pollution by choosing electric vehicles. Thanks to this decision, Coloradans can expect to be among the first to get access to electric vehicles, including electric pickups and SUVs, as they come to market in the coming years.”

Jacob Smith of Colorado Communities for Climate Action said Friday that the vote "is a big win for Coloradans all over the state. Colorado consumers will have more and better electric vehicle options, Colorado communities will have better air quality, and this will have a real impact on the carbon pollution that is already taking a toll on our economy and quality of life."

According to Garry Kaufman, director of the Air Pollution Control Division, the new standard does not mandate anyone buy an electric vehicle.

"It only requires manufacturers to increase ZEV sales from 2.6% to 6.23%. It’s a modest proposal in the face of a critical threat. Where the federal government refuses to act, states must lead. Time is of the essence."

Added Shoshana Lew, executive director of CDOT, "With transportation on track to become the number one source of emissions in Colorado, we must reduce congestion on the road and pollution in the air. With the adoption of this rule, government and industry will work together to achieve a win-win, by making cleaner vehicle choices available to Coloradans consumers sooner. We are grateful to the automakers for working with us to reach agreement on a negotiated Zero Emissions Vehicle rule — the first of its kind in any state.”

The program and Friday's decision didn't sit well with Freedom to Drive, a coalition that includes the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, several statewide agricultural trade groups, the motor carriers association and the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce.

Executive Director Kelly Sloan (who is also a columnist for Colorado Politics) said Friday that "we're disappointed by what appears to be a pre-ordained decision by the commission."

Sloan pointed out that the commission, while acknowledging that the program may adversely impact auto dealers, ignored the economic data presented by the coalition, especially given that the commission didn't do an economic analysis on the proposal they adopted.

"We will continue to speak for Coloradans who will be adversely impacted by this and other decisions," Sloan added. 

The Colorado Auto Dealers Association's Tim Jackson pointed out that CADA was not a party to the negotiations that resulted in the alternate proposal.

However, Jackson told Colorado Politics that "the version of the regulation is much more practical and reasonable than the original version of the regulation" and that it gives the industry up to six years to get EVs required into the market, so it's more doable.

However, "we oppose [the program] due to the higher cost it will make the vehicles that are sold in market that are not ZEV qualified," he said.

Jackson noted that the commission still operates under the assumption that cost of electric vehicles are coming down. 

"We have seen no marketplace based evidence of that," Jackson said.


Editor's note: This article was updated at 2 p.m. Aug. 16 to correct the number of states that have ZEV programs.

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