Today, in response to the EPA’s recent rollback of agreed-upon 2022-2025 fuel efficiency standards, Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado issued an executive order for his state to develop a Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standard similar to California’s current standard. The executive order explicitly calls out California as a model, and notes the twelve other US states which have adopted similar programs.
Gov. Hickenlooper previously issued an executive order in 2017 for the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26% by 2025. Today’s order is one step towards that goal.
At the very least, this should improve availability of EV models in Colorado. Colorado has some of the best state incentives for EVs, but there are many models which are not available in the state because they are “compliance cars” which are primarily sold and marketed in states where automakers are required by law to sell them due to LEV/ZEV programs like the one Colorado has decided to implement today.
Through the Clean Air Act, states can create their own vehicle efficiency standards by seeking a waiver from the EPA, as long as the standards meet certain minimum requirements, if the federal standard will not allow a state to meet its own clean air goals. California has taken advantage of this requirement for decades, developing its own standards.
Other states have followed and adopted California’s standards – these are known as the “CARB states” (CARB stands for California Air Resources Board). What this means is that there is a very large bloc of states, with large populations, large economies, and a large car market, which have different standards than the federal government.
Colorado stopped short of officially adopting all of California’s automotive regulations today, but did mention that California will be the inspiration for their LEV program. It certainly sounds like they’ve picked a side, so to speak, in the battle between states and the EPA.
A little more on that battle, if you haven’t been keeping up. Excuse me if I get a little uncouth.
EPA boss and fossil fuel advocate Scott Pruitt, who has taken over $270,000 in bribes from the oil and gas industry and recently violated ethics rules by sending an intern on personal errands for him, including buying him a used Trump hotel mattress, has floated the idea of “reviewing” Caifornia’s Clean Air Act waiver in an attempt to create one federal standard, instead of the current situation which involves conflicting state and federal standards.
The differing standards mean that automakers can either market a more efficient car to only part of the US (as is the case with compliance cars) in order to bring up their fleet average efficiency in those areas, or they can focus on improving their fleet overall to meet tough standards and then be able to sell everything nationally and not have to bother with different regional rules. The latter option is generally more palatable to a company which is trying to sell as many of its products as possible with as little trouble as possible, particularly considering that fuel efficiency standards are also rising in the EU and China so automakers will have to improve their fleets to sell in those markets as well. This means that the federal government’s planned rollback has proven, well, a little impotent.
Having one federal standard sounds reasonable, except that President Obama’s 2022-2025 fuel efficiency standards were an attempt to make a single federal plan, which California had signed on to, and by rolling back those standards, Pruitt has brought back the patchwork of standards he claimed he wanted to avoid. Now the EPA is being sued by 17 states to stop the implementation of the rollback, and the DOT recently lost in court in their attempt to delay a raise in fines related to fuel efficiency standards.
In response to the ensuing chaos from the rollback, traditional automakers realized that their constant lobbying against fuel efficiency standards was perhaps a bad idea after all, and went to beg Mr. Trump to fix the chaos they brought upon themselves. Now, instead of one clean federal standard which everyone agreed upon and which the EPA itself acknowledged could be met cheaper and earlier than they originally thought, automakers will have to contend with the uncertainty of lawsuits and more changes in state laws.
Colorado’s move today to implement a LEV standard, which Gov. Hickenlooper says is a direct response to the federal government’s rollback, is an example of the kind of blowback that will only make the auto industry’s job harder going forward.
But even after that apparent realization, the auto industry responded to today’s move by starting a campaign to undermine Colorado’s efforts to implement this policy. It seems like they haven’t learned their lesson after all. Lobbying against the public interest is apparently such an integral part of their nature that even when something bad happens to them as a result of it, they still can’t change.
These are the actions of an addict. The automakers can’t stop themselves. They need an intervention. And I’ll propose one here: the public needs to stop buying gasoline-powered cars. Entirely.
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