Southbound traffic on Interstate 25 in Denver is seen on Oct. 5, 2020. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
Officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced on Tuesday that they would dramatically scale down a proposed rule to require large employers in the Denver metro area to incentivize their employees to reduce car travel, dealing a major blow to efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution.
“The state recognizes that many of the businesses, employees, and local communities that will be impacted by the rule have concerns about the Employer Traffic Reduction Program (ETRP) as currently proposed,” CDPHE said in a statement. “Recognizing these concerns, the Department will revise its ETRP proposal to first focus on data gathering components to establish a strong baseline for future policy paired with setting a strong foundation through a voluntary trip reduction approach.”
As originally proposed, the ETRP program would have required businesses in the Denver metro area that employ more than 100 employees at one location to develop and implement a plan to reduce single-occupant vehicle commutes through options including telecommuting, flexible scheduling and providing public-transit passes or employee shuttles.
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The program was modeled on similar initiatives launched in at least 27 other state and local jurisdictions across the country, CDPHE officials said in an April presentation to businesses. The rulemaking hearing for the ETRP proposal will proceed as scheduled in August, a spokesperson for CDPHE’s Air Pollution Control Division confirmed, but the program will be overhauled to center on “opportunities for employers to voluntarily develop ETRP Plans,” potentially to receive early-adoption incentives in advance of future regulation.
“This new proposal is based on the recognition that lasting and meaningful success will require strong buy-in from employers who are subject to the program, and a pilot phase will provide valuable information of real world implementation successes and challenges,” CDPHE’s statement said.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Danny Katz, executive director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group and an advocate for the ETRP program, said in an interview. “This seemed like an easy and obvious step to take, to help employers expand the options they give to their employees to get around without polluting our air.”
“We need everyone to be part of the solution,” Katz added. “What was so unique about ETRP is that it was a chance to align these large employers and get us all on the same team — all of us working to create more options to people get around. That was not only going to be extremely beneficial for reducing pollution, but really beneficial for those employers and employees to have more options to get around.”
I'm extremely disappointed.
– Danny Katz, of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group
The defeat of the ETRP proposal is a victory for business groups, including the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, which said in written testimony that the rule would “damage the Colorado economy, and disparately burden certain communities and industries.”
For months, the pending ETRP initiative has been held up by officials in Gov. Jared Polis’ administration as a centerpiece of the state’s strategy for reducing greenhouse gas pollution in the transportation sector, as the governor has fought off pressure from environmental groups and many of his Democratic allies to enact stricter climate regulations. Two years ago, Colorado lawmakers set an ambitious series of emissions goals in House Bill 19-1261, but many of the bill’s supporters have been frustrated by Polis’ implementation of the new law.
The administration has instead embraced an approach based on a “roadmap” for emissions reductions that it finalized in January, outlining a path towards the HB-1261 targets that relies on a combination of government regulation and private-sector action.
The ETRP proposal is featured prominently in the “near term actions” listed by the roadmap as part of the state’s plan to cut transportation-sector emissions by 12.7 million tons by 2030. Just days ago, the plan was referenced in a Colorado Department of Transportation memo outlining the state’s strategy for reducing transportation emissions.
“Especially for the building and transportation sectors … we need to implement solutions that will create incentives to help millions of Coloradans have more transportation options, drive cleaner cars, and heat their homes and businesses with cleaner technologies,” Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, told Democratic lawmakers in April, in testimony opposing Senate Bill 21-200, a proposal backed by environmental groups to require stricter sector-by-sector emissions rules.
Transportation-sector emissions caps originally proposed by SB-200 were stripped from the final version of the bill as part of a compromise reached with Polis. Along with a major transportation-funding bill that was criticized by environmental advocates for prioritizing cars and highways, the defeat of the ETRP initiative is yet another warning sign for those who say Colorado isn’t doing enough to reduce emissions economy-wide.
“If this very clear strategy in the roadmap is not a strategy that we’re going to truly consider, then I’m very concerned about all the other strategies that are in that roadmap,” Katz said.
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