Sierra Club attorney Joe Halso talks about recent rule-makings by Colorado Air Quality Control Commission and how they fit into Colorado’s effort to decarbonize transportation.
In a unanimous vote, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission on Oct. 20 adopted a new rule that will require 82% of new passenger vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emitting by 2032.
The state’s new clean cars rule comes after the commission adopted similar rules in April for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, including trucks and buses.
To help sort through where Colorado is in this, Big Pivots conducted an interview by e-mail with Joe Halso, a Denver-based staff attorney for the Sierra Club that engaged in the two rule-making proceedings this year.
Who did you represent in these rule-making proceedings before the Air Quality Control Commission?
We engaged on the car and truck rules with five partner organizations: the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Western Resource Advocates, Conservation Colorado, and Colorado 350. With major rulemakings like these it is always a team effort.
Why are these rule-makings happening at the Air Quality Control Commission? What authority and responsibility does it have?
The commission’s basic job is to adopt regulations that will curb air pollution in line with federal limits and state targets. It has authority to regulate emissions from a wide range of sources, including mobile sources like cars and trucks.
Colorado’s Front Range is plagued by poor air quality, and we are in “severe non-attainment” for federal ozone standards. State law requires the commission to bring Colorado into compliance with those standards. Our new car and truck rules will counteract our ozone issues by reducing smog-forming pollutants like nitrogen oxides (better known as “NOx”).
State law also requires the commission to implement rules to achieve Colorado’s statutory decarbonization targets. The General Assembly first enacted targets in 2019, and it strengthened those targets this year in SB23-016.
The current targets require GHG reductions of 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, 65% by 2035, 75% by 2040, 90% by 2045, and 100% by 2050.
Meeting those targets will require significant reductions from the transportation sector, which is the state’s leading source of climate pollution.
In April, the AQCC adopted two rules to address truck emissions including the so-called “Advanced Clean Truck” rule. Tell us about that.
On April 21–the day before Earth Day–the AQCC adopted a pair of major rules to slash truck pollution. The Advanced Clean Truck rule, or ACT, requires truck manufacturers to steadily increase their sales of zero-emission models over time, spurring the clean truck market and improving choices for consumers.
The ACT rule applies to all on-road medium- and heavy-duty vehicles — everything from delivery vans to buses to tractor trailers. The zero-emissions vehicle sales requirements vary based on vehicle category. The rule should result in 40% to 75% new zero-emission vehicle sales in those categories by 2035.
The commission also adopted a complementary Low-NOx rule that strengthens emission limits for NOx and particulates. It will significantly reduce health-harming pollution from new combustion engines in heavy-duty vehicles.
The two rules work in tandem — the Low NOx rule drives near-term reductions from conventional engines, while the ACT rule accelerates the longer-term transition to zero-emitting trucks.
Both rules are to take effect in 2027. Colorado is the eighth state to adopt the ACT rule and the seventh state to adopt the Low NOx rule. It is the first non-coastal state to adopt either rule.
Am I correct in thinking that the Advanced Clean Truck rule will benefit Lightning e-Motors, the Loveland-based manufacturer?
Yes, we certainly expect ACT to benefit Lightning e-Motors and many of Colorado’s other clean transportation businesses. This is illustrated by a $5 million investment by Lightning e-Motors last year in an expansion of its manufacturing capacity and a doubling of the workforce at Solid Power (a Colorado EV battery startup that Ford and BMW recently invested in).
Colorado’s clean tech sector currently supports 64,000 jobs statewide, and the state’s clean vehicles manufacturing workforces grew by 14% in the last year.
What’s next for tackling truck pollution in Colorado? Is there more work to be done?
Much more. We have a long way to go to protect our communities from truck pollution and to achieve our goal to decarbonize the truck sector.
The state is now developing its second GHG Reduction Roadmap. The Sierra Club and partners have urged the state to consider a number of near-term policies to address truck pollution.
They include requiring zero-emissions purchases for school buses, transit, or other government fleets. Also, rules to target “indirect” sources of truck pollution like warehouses and railyards.
Adoption of California’s Advanced Clean Fleets rule would establish clean vehicle purchase requirements for certain large vehicle fleets and require manufacturers to hit 100% new zero-emission truck sales by 2035. That 100% target goes beyond what the ACT rule requires and a large number of truck and engine manufacturers agreed in July to support it.
Let’s go to October’s rule-making for the Colorado Clean Cars standard. This is the second such rule-making for light-duty, passenger cars?
That’s right. The new Colorado Clean Cars rule will extend our existing rules, which sunset in 2025. The new standards pick up in 2027 and run through 2032, when they will require 82% of new light-duty vehicles to be zero-emitting.
These standards are based on a California rule that continues ramping up to 100% new zero-emitting vehicles in 2035 and beyond. (Under the federal Clean Air Act, Colorado has two choices for regulating vehicle emissions: it can accept the federal standards or choose to adopt California’s programs. We’ve chosen the latter.
In future rule-making, we expect Colorado to adopt standards for later model years that reach 100% new clean vehicle sales, in line with our air quality needs and statutory decarbonization targets.
You asked the commission to go beyond the 82% rule proposed by the Polis Administration and adopt a rule that would put Colorado on track to achieve 100% zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035. Why?
Because we need to get to 100% ZEV sales by 2035 to hit our climate targets.
Colorado has a 2050 net-zero target, and meeting that goal requires us to decarbonize our vehicle fleet. Because new vehicles can stay on the road for 15 years or more, we need to reach 100% new ZEV sales by 2035. Analysis prepared for the Colorado Energy Office and independent modeling we submitted during the rule-making supports the finding that hitting 100% ZEV sales by 2035 is essential to meet state targets.
2035 is a decade away. Why not wait until 2029 for a re-evaluation, to see where we are then? What is the harm?
We saw several major advantages to locking in our path to 100% now. Here’s just a few.
Going to 100% would’ve said loud and clear that Colorado is fully committed to a ZEV transition. Automakers, charging developers, and others could then rely on that market signal to invest in Colorado now and over the long-term. Without a full commitment, the growing number of states that are going to 100% may be prioritized over Colorado. (Seven states have adopted a 100% rule, and seven more are considering one right now.)
The 100% rule would guarantee that Colorado realizes a staggering $95 billion in health, climate, and economic benefits, which is some $20 billion more than the 82% rule can achieve.
And the 100% rule is actually the most flexible. It could be revisited at any time, while the state’s piecemeal approach is much more constrained. That’s because federal law requires states to wait two years before enforcing new emission limits, but there’s no waiting period to revisit existing standards.
Although the commission stopped short of a 100% rule, it agreed with your argument that the state should be required to come back in 2029 and propose continuing the rule. Is that right?
Yes. The state must propose to adopt the last three years of the program no later than 2029. That would enable Colorado to still reach 100% new ZEV sales by 2035. We’ll be there to ensure that happens.
Just wondering. When in high school, did you ever imagine you would someday be making arguments like this before Colorado’s lead air quality agency?
I really didn’t. At that time I wanted to be an English teacher. But I grew up outside Detroit. A lot of family members worked for the Big Three. My grandma worked at a tire plant, and my great-grandfather built gears and axles. I now get to carry on their legacy in my own way by pushing the industry toward clean vehicles.
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