Colorado to fight Trump admin's decision to block states from setting stricter emissions standards

Posted at 11:52 AM, Sep 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-18 19:25:59-04

DENVER – Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser says he plans to challenge the Trump administration’s revocation of California’s authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards, which Colorado adopted last December under an executive order from then-Gov. John Hickenlooper and has since strengthened under the Polis administration.

President Trump announced that his administration and the Environmental Protection Agency would be revoking California’s federal waiver on Twitter, claiming that automakers would be able to produce cars that will cost less for consumers but also have “very little difference” in emissions.

“Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!” Trump tweeted. “Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business.”

But automakers have tried to increase the fuel economy of their vehicles to keep up with the global market in recent years. Trump’s Department of Justice has opened an antitrust investigation into California’s deal with automakers and he has tried to undo gas mileage standards implemented under President Obama’s administration.

Trump’s tweets said that he is seeking a “new U.S. standard,” which EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Tuesday would be the case.

When Hickenlooper had Colorado adopt California’s standards, which go back to a waiver granted to the state when the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, the state was seeking to avoid the weakening of federal standards by Trump. New vehicles sold in the state have to average 36 miles per gallon by 2025 under the rules.

The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association sued over the decision, saying they believed it was illegal and would harm dealers and car-buyers because of increased prices.

But when Gov. Jared Polis took office in January, he pushed the state further – seeking to promote a zero-emission vehicle standard and increase the state’s use of electric vehicles, buses and trucks.

In May, he outlined his roadmap to 100% renewable energy , part of which included a plan to increase the number of ZEVs on Colorado roads to 940,000 by 2030 and incentivize both consumers and automakers to buy and sell the vehicles.

And last month, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission adopted the new ZEV standard – the 10th state to do so. It will require automakers to make 5% of its sellable inventory zero-emission vehicles by 2023 and require 6% of the inventory to be ZEVs by 2025.

Representatives for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Global Automakers both said they were appreciative of the Polis administration’s work in adopting a standard with input from the automakers and dealers.

The plans, and adoption of the new standards, are all aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the state in an effort to battle poor air quality across the Front Range and fight climate change, the state said.

Weiser on Tuesday pledged to fight the Trump administration’s revocation of California’s authority – his latest in several challenges of the administration’s actions.

“This action is a direct assault on our system of cooperative federalism and an effort to undermine the role of states in addressing #climatechange,” he tweeted. “Colorado will be challenging this ‘unprecedented action.’”

Weiser’s office and the governor’s office said they would be analyzing the administration’s latest action.

"We have a waiver until 2025. We have never had a situation where a waiver is revoked before it expires," Weiser said in an interview Wednesday. "I don't believe that's legal and that's what we will be fighting about in court."

He called the Trump administration's actions "discouraging" as Colorado works to improve its air quality.

"If we have to sue the EPA, calling the out on their illegal action, we will do it," he said. "The announcement suggests something wholly unprecedented."

The Colorado Department of Health called the actions "unnecessary and unprecedented."

“We have broad support around the Colorado standard, including the support of auto manufacturers. The state has acted to achieve a Colorado standard that is aligned with Coloradans’ expectation to have clean air to breathe. We acted in the absence of federal leadership, but now are being met by not only federal inaction but sabotage,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, CDPHE’s executive director. “It is well within our rights as a state to protect the quality of our environment and the health of our communities.”

“This action limits our ability to reduce vehicle emissions, make progress towards attaining and maintaining federal ozone standards, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said the Regional Air Quaulity Council's Executive Director Mike Silverstein.

“This is yet another attack on climate change & states’ rights to set their own auto emissions standards & protect their residents,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo. “We should be doing everything we can to combat climate change & this takes us backward.”

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., a staunch backer of Trump’s, lauded the decision by thanking the president and saying, “The nation should not be held hostage by the California CARtel.”

Environmental groups were irate about the decision, however.

“The Trump administration is yet again undermining not just Colorado’s environment and public health, but our state’s right to protect our residents from dangerous air pollution,” said Conservation Colorado Deputy Director Jessica Goad.

This is a developing story and will be updated.