Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has filed a legal brief in support of stronger vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, saying the state recently adopted its own rules because the Trump administration is pushing for weaker ones.
The friend-of-the-court brief Weiser filed Feb. 15 says the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to replace Obama-era rules has left states scrambling. In response, Colorado adopted a standard similar to California’s to boost gas mileage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the brief says.
The brief supports a lawsuit by California and 17 other states that challenges rolling back rules intended to significantly boost gas mileage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions
“The abrupt and arbitrary switch of EPA causes states like Colorado to scramble to evaluate, and in Colorado’s case adopt, California’s approach” of stronger rules, according to the brief.
The EPA didn’t follow the law when it announced in August that it would roll back the standards, a decision that “will cause more greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the severity of climate change and polluting our state,” the brief states.
But Colorado’s decision to adopt California’s fuel-efficiency rule will drive up costs for Colorado car buyers and reduce their choices, the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association argues. A lawsuit by the association seeks to repeal low-emission rule approved late last year.
A consultant hired by the association to review the rule eventually approved by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission said the rule will add an average $2,110 to a new vehicle’s sticker price in the state. The report by Energy Ventures Analysis in Virginia said adopting California’s standard for model years 2021 to 2025 would cost Colorado a cumulative $2.86 billion while saving less than $1 billion in fuel costs.
“Part of the added cost is having multiple standards,” said Tim Jackson, the association’s CEO and president. “It costs more to make different cars for different parts of the country.”
The report also says that Colorado regulators failed to address the effects of the state’s high altitude, which means the benefits of lower emissions and fuel costs could be overstated.
And there’s the fact that unlike California, about 75 percent of the vehicles sold in Colorado are trucks or sports utility vehicles, Jackson said.
When the Obama administration proposed boosting gas mileage, the EPA projected that the average per-vehicle cost would be roughly $1,100. In 2017, the agency estimated that people who took out a five-year car loan would see a payback within the first year and a net savings of $1,650 over the lifetime of the vehicle
“Unless you’re not planning to drive your car, we know that a fuel-efficient car will save you money over the long run,” said Danny Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group.
The Union of Concerned Scientists said a more fuel-efficient vehicle might cost slightly more upfront, but the state’s new rule should result in average savings in gas costs of $2,700 per Colorado household by 2030.
Advances in technology mean that the costs of making vehicles more fuel-efficient will likely be lower than the estimates by federal agencies, according to a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation. The costs will likely be from 34 percent to 40 percent lower than projected, said the nonprofit research organization that works on climate change and public health issues.
The Obama administration developed rules to nearly double vehicles’ mileage and reduce emissions that contribute to climate change.
In August, the EPA announced plans to replace the Obama-era rule with what it called more realistic standards that would give “a much-needed time-out from further, costly increases.” The administration said its proposal would cut regulatory costs by more than $250 billion and save car buyers $2,340 overall.
The administration is also targeting the waiver that allows California, which has long struggled to reduce smog, to set its own standard. States without waivers, like Colorado, can approve a separate standard as long as it’s identical to California’s.
Federal officials have conceded that easing the Obama administration’s rule would boost national fuel consumption by about a million barrels of oil per day and increase greenhouse-gas emissions.
The new Colorado rule requires automakers to boost fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon, which is the target goal on paper. The actual number for vehicles in real-world conditions works out to be roughly 39 miles per gallon. The rule will start affecting new lightweight and medium-duty vehicles in 2022.
Later this year, state regulators are expected to consider a rule based on California’s requirement that a certain percentage of vehicles sold in the state be electric.
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