Already narrowed, Colorado rule to reduce car commutes is withdrawn completely
Business groups cheer as health department drops support for program aimed at limiting air pollution
Cars head south on Interstate 25 in Denver during rush hour traffic on on July 23, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
Days after dramatically scaling down a proposed rule to require large employers to encourage alternatives to car commutes, Colorado air-quality regulators went even further to satisfy the concerns of business groups opposed to the measure, moving to withdraw it from consideration entirely.
In a pair of motions filed with the Air Quality Control Commission this week, staff from the state’s health department recommended that the commission end consideration of the Employee Traffic Reduction Program, which the AQCC had been scheduled to take up at its meeting next month. The AQCC granted the motion in a procedural order issued Friday.
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The ETRP program, modeled after similar initiatives launched in at least 27 other local and state jurisdictions across the country, would have required businesses with more than 100 employees at one location in the Denver metro area to develop and implement plans to reduce the number of employees commuting in single-occupant vehicles. Options for ETRP compliance would have ranged from telecommuting and flexible scheduling to providing public-transit passes or employee shuttles.
The ETRP proposal had been touted by Gov. Jared Polis’ administration as a centerpiece of its efforts to reduce pollution in the transportation sector, especially as it fought off legislation backed by environmental groups to strengthen mandatory emissions cuts. It’s prominently featured in the administration’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, which was finalized in January, and was referenced in a Colorado Department of Transportation planning document as recently as Monday.
But over the course of a few days this week, the state’s Air Pollution Control Division first dramatically narrowed the scope of its proposed rule then moved to withdraw it altogether.
“After extensive outreach and engagement with a diverse range of stakeholders, the Division now withdraws its support and proposals for a formal ETRP rule and instead will focus on opportunities presented through a voluntary program,” the APCD said in a motion filed with the AQCC on July 21.
The rule’s complete withdrawal came just two days after an initial communication by the APCD to interest groups indicating that the division was “revising its proposal.” As late as Tuesday evening, APCD spokesperson Andrew Bare told Newsline that the division was “re-focusing the Employee Traffic Reduction Program proposal on collaborative data collection and voluntary participation,” and that a modified rule would still be considered at the AQCC’s August meeting. The division filed its withdrawal the following day.
Transportation state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions
Opponents of the proposed rule, including many Colorado business groups, cheered its likely defeat.
“We are grateful to the Division for listening to our concerns and those of our members and withdrawing its support and proposal for a formal Employee Trip Reduction Program rule,” Laura Giocomo Rizzo, senior vice president of external affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “We firmly believe a voluntary approach with employers to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips and increase flexibility for employees is the right way to go.”
Other opponents were less measured in their criticism. Tim Jackson, the president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, wrote on Twitter that the ETRP proposal was “Colorado’s version of #HungerGames.” Jackson celebrated the rule’s withdrawal by posting an image of pallbearers carrying a coffin, accompanied by the message, “RIP #ETRP.”
The transportation sector is Colorado’s largest source of climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for more than 25 million tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent annually, according to state estimates. Cars and trucks are also major sources of local air pollution, accounting for as much as 40% of locally-emitted ozone-forming pollutants like nitrogen dioxides and volatile organic compounds. Each year, air pollution is estimated to cause between 90,000 and 360,000 premature deaths in the United States.
“The Division remains committed to meaningfully reducing emissions,” the APCD wrote in its withdrawal motion, “and believes a voluntary program can build a foundation for the future success (such as better data and real-world examples) of the program and result in real progress on emissions reductions.”
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