Good News for Colorado Drivers: Hickenlooper Moves to Adopt State Clean Car Standards

June 21, 2018 | 4:00 pm
Don Anair
Deputy Director & Research Director, Clean Transportation

This week Governor Hickenlooper ordered his agency staff to move forward in adopting California Clean Car Standards for Colorado – a move that would prevent the harm to Colorado consumers that the anticipated federal rollback of fuel economy and emissions standards is expected to bring.   At the same time, California regulators released an analysis that sheds light on just how much damage a rollback of federal vehicle standards is likely to have if state clean car standards are not kept in place.  What’s at stake?  A lot, including billions of dollars in additional gasoline spending.  And sadly, the Auto Alliance – the trade group representing major auto companies including Ford, GM, and Toyota – has resorted to a misinformation campaign to turn Coloradans against cleaner cars.

Why does Colorado want to join California and the other 12 states that follow California’s emissions rules?

Every state in the nation is benefiting from the availability of cleaner, more efficient vehicles that have been prompted by current emissions and fuel economy standards. In fact, savings on fuel already tops $60 billion.

Current plans by the Trump Administration are to rollback federal standards which are currently aligned with CA and the other states that have adopted California rules.  It has been reported the administration’s proposal, currently under review before public release, would freeze the standards at 2020 levels. This would result in a major increase in climate emissions – UCS estimates an increase of more than ½ billion tons of climate emissions just for vehicles built from 2022 through 2025. By 2030, that would be the equivalent of pollution from 30 coal-fired power plants.  But it would also harm consumers more directly, increasing how much they spend at the pump for years to come.

For example, Coloradans have already saved $550 million in fuel costs thanks to existing standards and by 2030 are expected to save an average of $2,700 per household under current rules.  If EPA and NHTSA freeze the standards in 2020, these expected savings will be slashed.  Governor Hickenlooper understands what’s at stake and the move to have Colorado join 13 other clean car states will ensure Coloradans continue to get clean, more efficient vehicle choices in every class from small cars to big SUVs and pick-up trucks.

California analysis makes it clear – rolling back vehicle standards will hurt consumers and increase pollution

An analysis by California regulators paints a very clear picture that following the Trump Administration’s plan to stall progress on clean cars will be a costly mistake. The analysis examines the pollution and economic impact to California under two scenarios – (1) vehicle standards are frozen at 2021 levels or (2) vehicle standards kept in place through 2025 as currently planned.  The highlights (or low-lights) from their analysis (See Appendix A):

  • A rollback of vehicle standards will cost Californians a net $15 billion between 2021 and 2030. That’s because cleaner cars save consumers money, even after paying for the technology to reduce emissions. Weaker standards mean less fuel savings and more money spent on fuel.
  • Californians would also suffer from additional air pollution resulting from production and delivery of increased amounts of gasoline, adding another $1 billion in economic costs related to increased premature deaths and health-related damages between 2021 and 2030.
  • Adding in the economic value for the actual carbon emission reductions, the rollback adds an additional $1.3 to $5.5 billion in climate damages that would have been avoided with the standards between 2021 and 2030.
  • In California, the state has a law requiring a 40% reduction in global warming emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The ARB analysis shows that a rollback would add nearly 57 million metric tons of CO2 between 2021 and 2030 with about a 20% annual increase in car and truck emissions by 2030. The numbers would be even worse if standards are held at 2020 levels, as reportedly may happen, instead of 2021. Many other states, including Colorado, have set emission reduction goals and are committed to contribute to efforts to avoid the costly consequences of climate change. A rollback will make their efforts that much harder.

While the analysis is specific to California, the same conclusions hold for other states.  Clean car standards are good for consumers and reducing pollution – and freezing them is a gift to the oil industry paid for by drivers at the pump.

Figure 1. Analysis by CA regulators showing emissions from light-duty vehicles under current standards (blue line) and emissions if standards are held at vehicle model year 2021 levels (green line).

Auto Industry Response to Colorado’s support for Clean Cars? Spread misinformation

Immediately responding to Colorado’s decision to ensure its consumers get the benefits of cleaner car technology, the Auto Alliance (representing companies including Ford, GM, and Toyota) and the Colorado Chamber of Commerce rolled out a new campaign attacking clean car standards as un-Coloradan, using the same scare tactics and misinformation harkening back to the days of fighting seatbelts and air bags requirements.

Here’s some fact checking:

  • Claims of higher gas prices resulting from clean car standards are completely bogus. Clean car standards require manufacturers to make cleaner cars. These cars reduce fuel use and save consumers money at the pump. Yet the Alliance’s website claims adopting CA standards somehow means Colorado gas prices will be affected.  This is a blatant attempt to use California’s higher than average gas prices as a scare tactic to Colorado consumers and is not based on facts—Coloradans will save money on gas as a result of this action, not spend more on it.
  • Strong standards will provide Coloradans more choices, not less. The Alliance claims clean car standards are bad for Colorado consumers and would restrict vehicle choices. The opposite is true. Current standards are driving innovation and giving consumers more fuel efficient choices in every class especially in small SUVs as documented in our recent Automaker Rankings report.  As we’ve pointed out time and again, selling SUVs and trucks doesn’t make it harder to manufacturers to meet clean car standards but it remains a talking point of the Auto Alliance.
  • The Zero Emission Vehicle Program does not require automakers to sell 15 percent electric vehicles by 2025. Peddling misinformation about CA’s Zero Emission Vehicle program trying to make the case it is unreasonable is standard fare for the Auto Alliance. In fact, they know quite well that updated regulatory analysis from 2017 shows the program requires plug-in hybrid, battery electric or fuel cell vehicles to be about 7-8% of new sales by 2025 in California and slightly less in other states that have adopted CA’s program. CA is already at 5 percent new vehicle sales. Governor Hickenlooper’s announcement doesn’t include the California electric vehicle requirements, but even if it did, characterizing the requirement as 15 percent is a clear mischaracterization of what the program requires.


The Trump Administration, prompted by the automakers, has decided to throw out a well-coordinated national program for vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency —a move that is bad for consumers and moves the auto industry backward.  Initiation of lawsuits to prevent the rollback and Colorado’s recent announcement to join the clean car states clearly demonstrate that states recognize the myriad benefits to their residents from these standards.  They should not be deterred by tired auto industry arguments.