From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
This report was part of the May 3 issue of Mountain Town News.
Peter Butler, of Durango, and Auden Schendler, a town councilman in Basalt, are members of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, whose monthly meeting I attended this morning. At hand was whether to go forward with rule-making that would put Colorado in the company of 9 other states in adopting California’s zero-emission vehicle standards. It’s called Regulation 20.
The intent is to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles. Gov. Jared Polis, in an executive order in January, the first of his administration, directed the air agency to consider the California program.
There are at least two good reasons to do so. One is ozone pollution, ozone being the primary constituent of what we more loosely call smog. Colorado’s Front Range has violated federal ozone standards since 2008, and vehicle emissions are a major reason why. Second, if Colorado has any hope of meeting its greenhouse gas reductions goal, it must reduce emissions from the transportation sector. Transportation became the No. 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2017.
A staff member of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (an agency now headed by former Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan), described electric vehicles as being evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Left to its own devices, the staff member suggested, the free market will eventually embrace electric vehicles for the simple matter of cost. The cost of gasoline to get 100 miles in an internal-combustion engine is 2.5 times that of a battery-powered vehicle.
Of course, electric cars remain more costly. The staff member said the state assumes that battery-powered vehicles will reach up-front cost parity with internal-combustion engines somewhere between 2025-2028. In adopting California’s standards, Colorado will seek to accelerate the rate of adoption, by requiring manufactures to offer more electric vehicles in Colorado.
I sat in the second row, amid a bunch of suits. When it came time for testimony, nearly all of them identified themselves as auto dealers. They objected without exception. They want a voluntary market. They don’t want “cumbersome regulations.” Legislators need to tackle this, not a state agency directed by the governor. If it worked so well for California, why does California have such crummy air quality?
(As for California’s air quality, it has improved as the state now nears 10 percent market penetration of EVs. In Colorado, EV sales in late 2018 neared 3 percent).
The most interesting objection was that hydrogen will be the better solution than electrification, and time should be allowed for the hydrogen-powered cars to come a long. There were objections to subsidization of electric vehicles. We can, said several, do better than this.
The car dealers never did explain why the regulations would be burdensome, nor did they offer evidence of how fast the market, without guidance by government, would respond to the need to abate the pollution, both ozone and greenhouse gases.
But there was pushback. “A lot of people here have said we can do better,” said an individual who identified himself as Josh, a mechanic in a car dealership that specializes in EVs and hybrids. “If we could have done better, we wouldn’t be here (today). I am here because air quality in Denver is just awful and because of climate change, which we all know is a real thing.”
A woman pointed out that car dealers make little money on sale of cars. Their money comes from fixing cars and unlike internal-combustion engines, electric vehicles need comparatively few repairs.
Then came the final testimony of the morning. The speaker, Jim Burness, manages a company called National Car Charging. Revisiting automotive changes of the last 50 years, he pointed out that safety belts came as a result of a government mandate. Ditto for airbags. Ditto for improved fuel efficiency. His take-away conclusion: “Industry today is fighting for their right to pollute, and I find that very disturbing.”
A few minutes later, the commission voted with only a shrug of dissent from a member from Craig to pursue the rule-making. Colorado is hurrying to accelerate the energy transition. As one speaker said, there’s no time to spare.