This is a guest editorial submitted to the Daily Sentinel that ran on 11-25-2018. It was written in response to the recent action by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to adopt Low Emission Vehicle Standards beginning in 2022.

By Karen Sjoberg, Co-chair, Citizens for Clean Air

The state Air Quality Control Commission made the right decision when they approved Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order to adopt Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards. It is especially important now that the federal government plans to rescind similar EPA requirements made in 2012. Up until now, the Clean Air Act, enacted in 1970 by then President Nixon, has had a history of success in making the transportation sector cleaner, including eliminating lead from fuel. For the time being at least, it appears to be the states’ job.

Colorado’s adopted LEV standards are similar to the EPA standards currently being rolled back. Twelve other states and the District of Columbia have put these and even more protective Zero Emission standards into effect with successful results — California leading the way. If California changes the rules, Colorado has the option whether or not to adopt the new changes and remain in the program.

To address concerns voiced by Mesa County commissioners and others: LEV standards will lower emissions, and have nothing to do with electric vehicles. LEV only applies to cars and light duty trucks, and only those being manufactured starting in the 2022 model year or later that are sold in Colorado. The standards are designed to encourage vehicle manufacturers to develop more fuel efficient vehicles, saving consumers money at the gas pump. They don’t apply to used cars, nor do the rules require vehicle emissions testing.

With projected growth of over 86,000 more people in Mesa County by 2050, it’s important to be proactive if we don’t wish to end up like the Front Range, suffering consistently high ozone and particulate counts. Although we are blessed with many clear, blue sky days, the Grand Valley still has air pollution problems.

Our dreaded winter cold air inversions hover over the valley for days and sometimes weeks. The trapped air contains harmful particles and chemicals emitted from vehicles, wood stoves, industry and construction activities. During those days the valley air appears brown, and doctor and hospital visits increase.

A record-breaking number of days over 100 degrees last summer in the Grand Valley also reminds us of the importance of slowing, and eventually ending the main cause: the growth in greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation has become the No. 1 source of these emissions in the nation. Without action now, human suffering will increase as well as healthcare costs, missed school and work days, and increased agricultural and environmental damage. If those reasons are not sufficient to adopt standards for cleaner vehicles, they will save us money in gasoline, too.

Not to be confused with LEV, there is another, separate set of rules for Zero Emission Standards (ZEV), which have not yet been adopted by Colorado, although 10 other states have put them into place. The ZEV standard would require just over 9 percent of the statewide passenger vehicles sales by 2025 be plug-in hybrids, battery electric, or fuel cell vehicles. Of note, this requirement is not a mandate that dealerships sell a certain number of cars — the mandate is on the manufacturers. It is a credit system for manufacturers that can be transferred across ZEV states. Manufacturers can encourage dealers to sell cars so they can meet their credit, but there is no penalty or incurred cost to dealerships who don’t help them. This does not put an undue burden on our West Slope communities.

It is interesting to note that in many cases, purchase price comparisons show hybrid and electric vehicle versions, after state and federal tax credits, are less expensive than their gasoline-powered equivalents. Fuel savings make the purchase even more attractive. ZEV will ultimately help further technology development — though there are not yet electric trucks on the market, companies such as General Motors are working on developing them because ZEVs have more torque and need less maintenance than a combustion engine. As these new trucks come onto the market, they are likely to be in ZEV states first, so if Colorado adopts ZEV, it can help ensure we get this technology first.

Unless we change to cleaner cars and trucks now, CO2 emissions are projected to increase by 1.9 million tons a year in Colorado during the next 10 years. Eliminating vehicle pollution makes absolute sense if we want to provide a healthier, more hopeful future.

Considering the health and greenhouse gas reduction benefits, plus fuel savings for consumers, we are grateful to the Air Quality Commission and the governor for moving this forward. We encourage serious consideration of a ZEV standard next.

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