Petition for faster clean-trucks rule rejected by Colorado air commission

‘Faster may not be better,’ say commissioners after Polis administration’s rulemaking delay

By: - April 21, 2022 2:52 pm

Southbound traffic on Interstate 25 in Denver is seen on Oct. 5, 2020. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

Advocates for stronger climate action suffered the latest in a long line of defeats in their efforts to accelerate the pace of Colorado’s greenhouse gas policymaking in a meeting of state air commissioners on Thursday.

Members of the Air Quality Control Commission unanimously rejected a petition from environmental justice advocates to reverse a delay in the panel’s consideration of a rule aimed at boosting the transition to electric trucks and buses, and declined even to support a separate, non-binding motion calling for a speedier timeline from regulatory staff.

“Faster may not be better,” said AQCC chair Anthony Gerber, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health. “It is important to get these rules right. There are a lot of programs — it’s not as simple as waving a wand and suddenly having every truck be magically clean.”


With Thursday’s vote, the commission summarily dismissed a proposal from a coalition of advocacy groups and local governments, including the City and County of Denver, to move forward with an Advanced Clean Trucks rule by the end of the year. The petition followed the February announcement by Gov. Jared Polis’ administration that it would push back the rulemaking until at least 2023.

“In spite of overwhelming evidence that greenhouse gas and small particle emissions from trucks are poisoning our air and harming our communities, the AQCC chose to further delay action that would make
a real difference to improve our lives and our climate,” Ean Thomas Tafoya of environmental group GreenLatinos said in a statement.

The Advanced Clean Trucks rule, modeled on requirements passed by California and five other states, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by requiring manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to sell an increasing percentage of zero-emission models — applying the same approach to trucks and buses that Colorado and many other states have taken with passenger cars through Zero Emission Vehicle mandates.

Adopting the rule as soon as possible would send “a clear signal to manufacturers to begin delivering electric trucks,” said Emilie Olson, a principal with clean-energy business group Advanced Energy Economy. But pushing back adoption into the next calendar year, as proposed by the Polis administration, would mean its requirements won’t take effect until 2026, rather than 2025 as originally planned.

By deferring adoption of ACT, Colorado risks ceding ground as a priority market for medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles.

– Emilie Olson, of Advanced Energy Economy

“The sooner we move on ACT, the sooner fleet owners will be able to choose and realize significant cost savings from a breadth of newer, clean vehicle offerings coming into the marketplace,” Olson told the commission during public comment at Thursday’s meeting. “By deferring adoption of ACT, Colorado risks ceding ground as a priority market for medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles.”

But in a pattern that has recurred frequently at the AQCC in recent years, commissioners sought to assure activists they shared their concerns about climate change while soundly rejecting their proposals at the urging of the Polis administration and industry groups.

“Delaying the rulemaking doesn’t mean that the commission doesn’t recognize that there’s a climate crisis,” Gerber said. “I think that we all do, and the goal is to come up with a best possible solution.”

‘We don’t have the luxury of time’

State officials offered a variety of explanations for the delay of the clean-trucks rule, including “global supply chain issues” that could impact the availability of electric-vehicle batteries and impede trucking companies’ ability to participate in the rulemaking process.

The administration also cited the need to conduct additional outreach low-income communities and communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by pollution from trucks and other fossil-fuel infrastructure. Such concerns were echoed by multiple AQCC commissioners on Thursday, but they have angered environmental justice advocates who say that the state has had plenty of time to conduct outreach, and that disproportionately impacted groups have been loudly in favor of stricter emissions rules.

GreenLatinos, Mi Familia Vota, NAACP Denver and Indigenous group Womxn from the Mountain were all signatories to the petition for an accelerated rulemaking timeline submitted to the AQCC last month.

“The State has had more than a year-and-a-half since its first public meeting to fulfill its obligations to engage with disproportionately impacted communities,” wrote attorneys from the group Earthjustice on behalf of petitioners. “Community members have been clear — they need action now.”

Since shortly after Polis took office in 2019, a broad coalition of environmental groups has formed to put pressure on his administration to act more aggressively in implementing a suite of new climate laws, but has achieved little success. The delay of the clean-trucks rule followed the state’s cancellation of a proposed traffic-reduction program last year, while a rule aimed at reducing industrial emissions was also pushed back to 2023 last month.

Prior to Thursday’s vote, AQCC commissioners entered a nearly hour-long executive session to receive legal advice on its possible course of action.

Commissioner Elise Jones, who has often called on her fellow commissioners and regulatory staff to move faster on climate policy, called the declaratory judgment process sought by the petition was a “cumbersome and odd tool to compel a faster timeframe,” but said she continued to support adoption of the clean-trucks rule before the end of the year.

Following the unanimous vote to reject the petition, Jones asked the commission to consider a separate motion to “direct” the administration to bring a rulemaking forward by August, though she acknowledged the AQCC wouldn’t have the authority to enforce such a requirement.

That too failed, with enough commissioners voicing opposition that Jones withdrew her motion.

“I don’t doubt this body’s commitment to addressing climate change or equity,” Jones said. “But I will say that the low hanging fruit has been picked. We don’t have the luxury of time, and it’s going to get increasingly inconvenient, and that is the world that we live in.”


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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Chase Woodruff is a senior reporter for Colorado Newsline. His beats include the environment, money in politics, and the economy.