Southbound traffic on Interstate 25 in Denver is seen on Oct. 5, 2020. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
Last August, amid Colorado’s worst summer for air quality in over a decade, environmental groups petitioned state officials to fast-track consideration of a proposal to reduce trucking emissions, only to have their proposals swiftly batted down.
Garry Kaufman, then-director of the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, said moving adoption of the so-called Advanced Clean Trucks rule up to February 2022 wouldn’t “buy us anything in terms of additional environmental protection, because these standards apply on a model-year basis.” As long as the policy was adopted in 2022, Kaufman said, its impact would remain the same.
“We are scheduled (for a) rulemaking next August, so it is within the next 12 months,” agreed Curtis Rueter, an executive with Noble Energy and member of the Air Quality Control Commission, during the panel’s Aug. 18 hearing. “Accelerating the rulemaking to February doesn’t buy us anything.”
But state officials are set to tell the AQCC this week that they plan to push the clean-trucks rule back to 2023, after all, to allow for more time for a “robust stakeholder process.”
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That makes the proposed rule, which aims to fight climate change and air pollution by requiring manufacturers to sell more electric trucks, the latest in an increasingly long list of Colorado climate policies to be delayed, withdrawn or scaled down by Gov. Jared Polis’ administration — to the growing frustration of environmental groups.
“We thought this was a sure thing for 2022,” Aaron Kressig, a transportation electrification manager for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. “It was quite the surprise, and obviously quite disappointing.”
At least six states have already passed Advanced Clean Trucks rules, the first of which was adopted by California in 2020. The programs place new requirements on the medium- and heavy-duty vehicle market that are similar to the Zero Emission Vehicle mandates that many states, including Colorado, have enacted for passenger car sales.
There are about 480,000 trucks, vans and buses registered in Colorado, according to state data, and altogether they emitted more than 5.3 million tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases in 2019. That’s far less than the 17 million tons emitted by the state’s millions of light-duty vehicles, but cuts will need to be made in all areas of the transportation sector if Colorado hopes to achieve its statutory goals of a 50% reduction in statewide emissions by 2030, and a 90% cut by 2050.
In 2020, Colorado became one of 15 states plus the District of Columbia to sign a memorandum of understanding aimed at accelerating the transition to clean trucks. It has spent more than a year on the development of a “clean truck strategy,” including extensive public meetings with environmental and industry groups, and in October 2021 released a detailed study concluding that adoption of the ACT rule would deliver billions of dollars in benefits, both in cleaner air and reduced fuel costs.
Climate activists, who had been pushing for the rule’s swift adoption as early as January 2021, viewed the release of that economic analysis as the final step before rulemaking proceedings would officially get underway at the AQCC in early 2022.
“The understanding that all the environmental and environmental-justice groups had was that (in) 2022, the state was moving forward — you get this report done, start the process and get it done in 2022,” Kressig said.
Instead, the Polis administration has signaled over the last several weeks that it will be delaying the rule, and will formally present its new timeline to the commission at its hearing Thursday.
In prepared slides set to be presented to the AQCC, officials say the delay will enable the state to “get investments and programs in place to support adoption levels that would be required through (the) ACT rule,” and make participation in the rulemaking easier “for fleets and industry stakeholders impacted by supply chain issues.”
A spokesperson for the Colorado Energy Office wrote in an email Wednesday that the administration is “moving boldly and swiftly on these efforts as we always have.”
“The administration wants to move as fast as they can with a thoughtful approach to clean trucking, and with a pandemic-induced challenge in the global supply chain impacting the daily lives of people, it is not the time to cast these types of misguided assertions,” the CEO’s statement said. “The months ahead are an important time for stabilizing global supply chain issues — with major national efforts underway in areas like producing enough microchips to build the clean vehicles that our country needs.”
Multiple environmental activists also confirmed to Newsline that in a conference call with their groups Tuesday, administration officials further justified the delay by citing the need to conduct more outreach to low-income communities and communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by transportation pollution — a notion that baffled representatives of the half dozen environmental-justice groups who were participating in the call, and who have consistently urged the administration to adopt the rule.
“You have two (Environmental Justice Action) Task Force members here, the NAACP, the Environmental Justice Coalition,” said Ean Tafoya, Colorado state director for GreenLatinos. “How ridiculous is that?
“They made so many pivots,” he added. “They threw seven things at us, they want to see which one sticks as a good reason.”
If adoption of the clean-trucks rule is delayed until next year, its requirements would not go into effect until 2026, rather than 2025 as originally planned.
For advocates of more aggressive climate action, the delay is worrying enough in its own right. But they’re also frustrated by what they see as a growing lack of credibility among state policymakers as promises of future action repeatedly end in disappointment and delay. The latest roadblock follows the Polis administration’s withdrawal last summer of the Employee Traffic Reduction Program, a rule aimed at cutting emissions by reducing car commutes.
Environmental groups’ frustration with Polis dates back to passage and implementation of House Bill 19-1261, the 2019 legislation that enshrined emissions-reductions targets into law. Activists and even Democratic lawmakers in the General Assembly have pushed the administration to adopt stricter, more binding regulatory approaches to ensure that progress is being made. The first of HB-1261’s interim targets, a 26% overall emissions cut, is now just three years away.
Polis has eschewed such an approach, instead expressing confidence that the bill’s targets can be achieved through a more flexible set of regulations, as outlined in a “roadmap” released by state officials early last year. But with yet another policy promised by the roadmap facing a delay, the governor’s environmentalist critics, Tafoya said, are reaching a “breaking point.”
“People are pretty unhappy about this,” agreed Kressig. “People are tired of these delays when we have an expectation that something is going to be done.
“I think there’s a sense with a lot of folks, like — ‘Not this time,'” he added. “We’re not going to let you just roll over us again, on this thing that you said you were going to do.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:10 p.m., Feb. 16, 2022, to include a statement from the Colorado Energy Office.
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