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Colorado officials incensed by Trump auto emissions standards rollback; Weiser says state will fight

Colorado officials incensed by Trump auto emissions standards rollback; Weiser says state will fight
Posted at 3:35 PM, Mar 31, 2020

DENVER – Colorado environmental, transportation and energy officials sharply criticized the Trump administration’s finalization of an auto emissions standards rule that rolls back an Obama-era climate change policy meant to improve fuel efficiency in new-model vehicles and cut back on emissions, and the state attorney general said he would challenge it.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued its final Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule Tuesday, which sets corporate average fuel economy and CO2 emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks with 2021-26 model years.

But the finalized rule requires only a 1.5% yearly increase in those fuel efficiency standards – not the 5% annually that had been the case. Colorado officials said the 1.5% rule is lower than average annual increases seen since the George W. Bush administration.

“Today, President Trump is keeping his promise to autoworkers made three years ago that he would reinvigorate American auto manufacturing by updating costly, increasingly unachievable fuel economy and vehicle CO2 emissions standards, and that is what the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule accomplishes,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.

The federal administration has said the final rule would “increase U.S. competitiveness” and boost vehicle sales because new-vehicle costs will be reduced on average by about $1,000. Automakers have previously balked at the 5% rules, saying they were too costly to achieve. The Trump administration at one point proposed freezing the standards entirely but significant pushback, even from some automakers, changed the administration’s course.

But the finalized rule had officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Department of Transportation, and Energy Office incensed. Colorado has already approved a zero-emissions vehicle rule last year to try to cut back on emissions in the state and increase the number of electric and hybrid vehicles sold at dealerships in the state. And state officials said last year they would challenge the administration's blocking states like California and Colorado from setting their own standards.

“Fighting climate change and improving air quality will ultimately require a concerted national and international effort,” said John Putnam, the director of environmental programs at the Department of Public Health and Environment. “So, we wish the federal government had done better than a rule that rolls back important environmental progress.

Will Toor, the executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, said it was ironic the rollback was happening in the middle of the viral respiratory outbreak.

"It is bitterly ironic that, in the midst of a pandemic that is compromising respiratory health across the globe, this administration is choosing to focus its energies on rolling back air pollution regulations and trying to curtail states’ rights to protect the air we all breathe. It’s time for some perspective here: let’s put this needlessly partisan fight behind us and work together — federal and state governments, automakers and autoworkers, and the advocates for public health and the environment — and find a way to get auto manufacturers and the auto supply chain through the tumultuous economic time that we are in and on a long term pathway toward zero emissions transportation as the economy rebounds,” Toor said in a statement.

“We remain as adamant as ever that a collaborative approach -- with government partners, auto manufacturers, and auto dealers -- is the best way to ensure that consumers across Colorado have a range of clean vehicle choices to suit their mobility needs,” CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said in a statement.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the administration as “delivering on President Trump’s promise to correct the current fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said his office would challenge the new rollback, saying it was at-odds with even the ideas of some automakers, as well as what he called an “attack” on the Clean Air Act and states’ authority to adopt standards stronger than the federal government’s. The Denver metro area has already dealt with poor air quality for years.

“The administration’s rollback of clean car standards will harm public health and air quality. It rejects science, innovation, and the American problem-solving spirit, leaving America to trail the world in this important frontier,” Weiser said in a statement.

“The EPA’s misguided rollback is at odds with the agency’s own science and data, which show that the weaker fuel economy standards will increase air pollution, cost consumers more at the pump, and fail to make the nation’s roads safer. … Protecting our land, air, and water is one of my top priorities, and the State will challenge the federal government’s rollback of our clean car standards. I will continue to fight for clean air and public health in Colorado.”