This is the year for Colorado to map a full transition to electric cars

Picture the scene. You’re in the market for a new car. Last year was a rollercoaster ride for gas prices, and a nasty surprise hit your wallet in January when your heating bill spiked overnight. You’ve decided enough is enough – this is the year you buy an electric car!

As you check out the local dealerships, it’s hard to find what you’re looking for – or even find a zero-emission vehicle at all – and few options are affordable. In the end, you wind up purchasing a gas-powered vehicle, thinking, “Well, maybe next time.”

It doesn’t have to work like this.

Last December, Gov. Jared Polis’ administration proposed updating the Colorado Clean Car rule, which increases the number of zero-emission vehicles that automakers are required to produce year over year, gradually scaling to a requirement that roughly 7-8% of all vehicles produced be zero-emission by model year 2025. Under the new proposal, auto manufacturers would be required to sell roughly 80% electric vehicles in Colorado by 2032.

The Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) will begin a new rulemaking process on the new Colorado Clean Cars standard this summer. GreenLatinos and Western Resource Advocates are urging the Commission to adopt the updated standard before the year’s end.

The governor’s current proposal would end the standard in 2032, but Colorado stands to capture the greatest benefits if the state adopts the full rule through 2032. According to a new study by the modeling firm ERM, if Colorado adopts a stronger standard – one where all new vehicles sold by 2035 must be zero-emission – the state would reap between $90-95 billion in net benefits by 2050, as opposed to $72.5 billion under the partial rule.

Implementing a strong Colorado Clean Cars standard would not only give Coloradans more buying choices but would also incentivize auto manufacturers to offer more affordable zero-emission models, bringing electric vehicles within reach to more people in the state. By increasing market share for new ZEV models, this will also spur an increase in the secondary “used” ZEV market which is more accessible by those Black, Brown, and Indigenous Coloradoans living in disproportionately impacted communities. This is indeed the “Colorado Way” – establishing policies which improve consumers’ options in an equitable manner while also addressing the urgent crises of climate change and poor air quality. That is the example we can set for other states. Recent Polling by the Colorado Latino Policy Agenda, which surveyed over 1,500 Latinos across Colorado, revealed that over 69% of Latinos support expanded rebates encouraging Latinos to purchase new and used electric vehicles.

A strong clean cars standard will increase sales of electric vehicles and help Colorado significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, which drive climate change and smog-forming emissions that harm our public health. This air pollution hurts low-income individuals and diverse communities the hardest, as discriminatory housing policies have put their homes near highways and industrial areas that have higher concentrations of these harmful emissions. The American Lung Association ranks the Denver-Aurora metro area sixth among cities with the worst ozone pollution.

Fewer fossil fuel-powered cars on our roads will result in dramatically improved air quality, which will in turn reduce mortality and hospital visits caused by pollution; ERM projected that adopting the full clean cars standard through 2035 would net nearly $3 billion in public health benefits. Six states have recognized these benefits in accelerating the transition to zero-emissions vehicles and have adopted the full clean cars standard, while seven others, including Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey, are considering following suit.

Coloradans want zero-emission vehicles. In 2022, the number of battery-powered electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids, surged in the state, accounting for more than 10% of new vehicle registrations, according to the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association.

So why adopt the strongest possible clean cars standard now? Requiring all new passenger vehicle sales to be zero-emission by 2035 would bring emissions from the passenger vehicle sector down to nearly zero by 2050. Adopting the full clean cars standard wouldn’t spell the immediate end of gas-powered cars from Colorado’s roads; the measure ensures that any car sold before 2034 can be driven in perpetuity. It also allows for the continued sale of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which rely on electricity for shorter trips and gas for longer trips. Let’s be clear — no one will be coming to take your gasoline-powered car away in 2035.

Bold action from our leaders is required to meet the dual crises of climate change and poor air quality. In April, the AQCC took an important step forward by unanimously adopting Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) and Low-NOx rules, which will require manufacturers of trucks, buses, and vans to ensure that a certain percentage of their new sales are zero-emission vehicles. The Polis administration and AQCC should continue this momentum and adopt the full Colorado Clean Cars rule this fall.

Aaron Kressig is the Transportation Electrification Manager at Western Resource Advocates. Juan Roberto Madrid is Colorado Clean Transportation & Energy Policy Advocate for GreenLatinos. Both organizations are based in Colorado.

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