Gov Hickenlooper’s Bait and Switch

Below is the text of a column I wrote that appeared originally in the Denver Post.


The Governor’s bait-and-switch tactic for adopting California’s costly vehicle emission rules is an affront to Coloradans  


By Senator John B. Cooke


You have to admit, the Governor’s new vehicle emissions rulemaking gambit is a strange and disturbing spectacle.  But, maybe in today’s deteriorating political climate, keeping promises has fallen out of fashion.

What’s going on with the Air Quality Control Commission’s rulemaking for the adoption of new vehicle emissions standards? Colorado’s term-limited Governor assured everyone within earshot back in June that his executive order directing the adoption of California’s vehicle emissions standards applied only to that state’s Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards and not to the more radical and costly Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standards.  And yet, two months later on August 16, and again in last week’s published rulemaking timetable, Coloradans learned the Governor’s agenda has changed. Surprise! Colorado will also get the radical ZEV standards by way of a new rulemaking that begins in December and ends in the spring of 2019.

Has anyone noticed that the commission’s new ZEV rulemaking will be launched, conveniently, the month following the November election? Is that mere coincidence? Will the newly elected Governor and the elected lawmakers in the General Assembly approve of the radical ZEV emissions standards? Don’t ask. By January the appointed regulators will be well on the way to launching their green rocket ship into orbit.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, let’s start with the hypocrisy in using a greatly expedited rulemaking timetable to shortchange stakeholders input and circumvent new EPA emissions standards. After telling Coloradans for eight years that the EPA is the font of all wisdom on clean air standards, our progressive Governor is desperate to avoid complying with new EPA rules.

There is no good justification for this frantic rulemaking timetable. After the new EPA rules on 2021-2026 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) emissions standards are upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court, California will likely lose its authority to enforce a separate, more stringent set of emissions standards. That means every state that adopted the California standards will be subject to uniform national standards, and Colorado’s attempt to circumvent the EPA rules will have been futile. What the Governor’s hurry-up rulemaking is really about is helping California fight its battle with the EPA.

Has Colorado suffered by being under the EPA national standards instead of the more costly California standards?  Is Colorado’s air dirtier than California’s? Not at all. The American Lung Association’s most recent report on state-by-state air pollution indicators reveals that all twelve of California’s most populous counties are rated “F” for the number of “high ozone days.” Yes, Colorado has an ozone problem, but adopting California’s regulatory program is not the answer.

The Governor’s proposal to clone California’s vehicle emissions standards has all the makings of a slow-motion train wreck. Tying Colorado’s future emissions standards to California makes no sense for most Coloradans.  California has a different geography, different climate, and a very different mixture of automobile purchases. In the 1st quarter of 2018, in California only 53% of new vehicle purchases were Light Trucks and SUV’s, the vehicles that will experience the greatest price increases if the stringent California ZEV standards are adopted here. By contrast, in Colorado that figure is a whopping 74.6%– and in twenty-one Colorado counties it is above 80%.

If Colorado’s emissions standards need changing in 2019 or 2020, Coloradans’ choice of the next governor and the elected lawmakers in the 2019 General Assembly should be making that decision in accord with federal EPA rules, and we ought to let California fight its own battles. Trying to preempt the EPA has not worked well in the past, and it makes even less sense today.