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Colorado adopts new rule to speed up production of heavy-duty electric vehicles

April 24, 2023, 10:04 am
I-70 jam Dowd Junction
Semis in a recent traffic jam in Dowd Junction on Interstate 70 — one of the most clogged stretches of Colorado’s main east-west transit routes (David O. Williams photo).

Colorado air quality regulators on Friday approved a pair of rules aimed at reducing pollution from truck engines and speeding up adoption of medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles — albeit a year or two later than many environmentalists hoped.

In a unanimous vote after a three-day hearing, members of the Air Quality Control Commission adopted the Advanced Clean Trucks and Low-Nitrogen Oxides rules largely as proposed by state staff, with only minor tweaks to certain data-collection provisions in the proposal requested by environmental groups.

The move makes Colorado the eighth state to follow California’s lead in adopting the Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which requires manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to sell an increasing percentage of zero-emission models in the coming years. The rule’s mandate for clean trucks, buses and vans is similar to the approach Colorado and many other states have already taken towards passenger cars with their Zero Emission Vehicles rules.

While the transition to fully electric truck fleets could take decades, the Low-NOx rules, also pioneered by California, establish new standards for gas- and diesel-powered truck engines, lowering emissions of a hazardous air pollutant that contributes to ground-level ozone formation.

The rules, AQCC commissioners said Friday, will be key tools for the state in its efforts to reduce both ozone pollution and emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases.

“We know that transportation sources are huge for both of these,” said commissioner Patrick Cummins, a senior policy manager for the organization Clean Air Task Force. “Transitioning to a clean transportation system, we’re really at the very beginning of that. It’s going to take time, and we need to get going.”

There are about 480,000 trucks, vans and buses registered in Colorado, according to state data, and together they emitted more than 5.3 million tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases in 2019. That’s far less than the 17 million tons emitted by the state’s millions of light-duty vehicles, but cuts will need to be made in all areas of the transportation sector if Colorado hopes to achieve its statutory goals of a 50% reduction in statewide emissions by 2030, and a 90% cut by 2050.

In addition to broad climate effects, environmental-justice advocates and experts say the trucking sector has a disproportionate impact on low-income communities and people of color who live near the highways, depots and industrial facilities where heavy-emitting trucks largely operate.

Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office and the state’s top climate official, highlighted new grant programs to incentivize the purchase of clean trucks and buses and other policies that will help manufacturers and fleet operators meet the targets set by the ACT rule.

“Colorado has established a strong foundation for a successful transition,” Toor said. “We’re very much taking a whole-of-government approach, with interagency coordination and planning to support ZEV adoption, multiple pieces of legislation that have created dedicated revenue streams both for charging infrastructure and vehicle purchase incentives, and … significant utility engagement and investment to support transportation electrification.”

‘Shocked, in a good way’

Environmental groups had urged Colorado policymakers to move forward with the ACT rule as early as 2021, and were dismayed by state officials’ decision last year to push back the rulemaking to 2023. Officials said at the time that the delay would allow for a more “robust stakeholder process.”

In the end, however, there was little controversy over the rule’s adoption this week. The Colorado Motor Carriers Association, a group representing the state’s trucking industry, asked commissioners to consider an alternative plan that would have included longer phase-in periods and more exemptions, and joined representatives of Weld County in requesting that cleaner-burning natural gas vehicles count towards the rule’s requirements. Neither alternative proposal was adopted.

But vehicle manufacturers themselves offered no testimony in opposition to the rule, a fact that Garry Kaufman, a deputy director of the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, said showed that the market stands ready to comply with its targets.

“If we can’t meet them, why isn’t Dodge, and Ford, and some of these other companies that produce heavy vehicles — why aren’t they in here screaming bloody murder that there’s no way we can achieve this?” Kaufman said. “I think the answer is because they can.”

“The fact that not one vehicle manufacturer or engine maker showed up here to voice any concern or opposition to these standards — honestly, I’m shocked, in a good way,” Cummins agreed.

Colorado’s clean-energy industry hailed the new electric truck standards, which will go into effect in 2026, as a watershed moment in the transition to a zero-emission transportation system.

“Colorado’s adoption of ACT is a windfall for Coloradans who want to see the state meet its climate goals, avoid shouldering increasing costs from climate-related disasters, and live in an overall healthier environment,” Susan Nedell, an advocate with the industry group Environmental Entrepreneurs, said in a statement. “This rule gives businesses the tools they need to work with the state to drive its transition to clean transportation and widen the path for fruitful innovation and investment in the nascent clean transportation industry already in Colorado.”

A coalition of environmental and social-justice groups, including Conservation Colorado, the Colorado Sierra Club, GreenLatinos and the Rocky Mountain NAACP, applauded the adoption of the rules while noting the “work still to come.”

“This is by no means the end of our fight to make Colorado’s air safer to breathe and to reduce the toxic pollution accelerating the worst effects of climate change, but it is a step in the right direction,” the coalition said in a press release. “To meet the state’s emissions reduction targets, we need those in positions of power to hold polluters accountable to the rules that already exist; our economy and future generations of Coloradans depend on it.”

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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