Polis steers Colo. toward zero-emission cars

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Newly minted Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis yesterday inked an executive order to boost electric vehicles and reduce planet-warming emissions from transportation.

The order is among the biggest steps a Western state has taken to combat global warming. It previews the climate action to come from the new crop of Democratic governors as the Trump administration drives in the opposite direction.

The order directs the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) rule and to propose that rule to the Air Quality Control Commission no later than May 2019.

California is currently the ringleader of the ZEV program. Ten other states have followed its lead, including Oregon, Maine and New York. Colorado will become the 11th such state once the rule is finalized.

In addition, the order sets aside nearly $70 million in settlement money from the Volkswagen AG “Dieselgate” scandal for the purpose of supporting vehicle electrification, including for transit buses, school buses and trucks.

“Today’s executive order will strengthen our economy and protect the wallets of consumers across the state,” Polis said in a statement yesterday. “As we continue to move towards a cleaner electric grid, the public health and environmental benefits of widespread transportation electrification will only increase.”

The mood ran high yesterday among greens in Colorado, who cheered Polis’ first major administrative action since entering the governor’s mansion Jan. 1.

“This is definitely an exciting step for Colorado, and we’re celebrating,” said Danny Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group.

“We have an air pollution problem in Colorado,” Katz said. “There are days where we’re advised to exercise indoors, which is ridiculous. It completely undermines our quality of life here. So we need to transition to a transportation system that has electric vehicles because they’re cleaner.”

The order comes after former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) last year asked state regulators to study the feasibility of adopting California’s more stringent tailpipe emissions standards (E&E News PM, June 19, 2018).

Those standards are formally known as the low-emissions vehicle (LEV) program, and they’re complementary to the ZEV program. Colorado formally adopted them in November (Climatewire, Nov. 19, 2018).

Transportation represents the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, and the second largest in the Centennial State.

“This is a very big deal,” said Noah Long, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Transportation is now the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, and we simply have to get off fossil fuels if we’re going to solve the climate crisis.”

Long noted that Polis isn’t alone in pushing climate action: Among the Democratic governors who took office this month, several have used their State of the State addresses to urge more aggressive carbon-cutting efforts.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, for example, reiterated his call for transitioning the state to 100 percent renewable energy. And New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said her state will join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a consortium of governors trying to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement (Energywire, Jan. 17).

Polis’ announcement yesterday took place at a parking lot in Denver with an EV fast-charging station, according to Katz, who attended the event along with roughly 50 others. The governor made a splashy entrance, arriving in a Nissan Leaf before hopping out and plugging it in.

Colorado state Sen. Kevin Priola, a Republican, also spoke at the event. Priola recently introduced a bill to facilitate electric utilities’ investments in EV charging infrastructure.

“They were going for a bipartisan demonstration of support,” Katz said.