Governor Polis Takes Bold Action to Advance EVs & Clean Air

Colorado's new governor is starting out the new year with a plan to reduce transportation carbon emissions to protect the environment and public health.

Dennis Schroeder/National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Colorado is set to establish itself as a national leader on clean transportation with the executive order today from Governor Jared Polis to spur sales of electric vehicles. The executive order, one of the first actions by the new governor, directs the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to establish a Zero Emission Vehicle program. The order also directs state officials to tap funds provided by Volkswagen resulting from its Dieselgate scandal to construct vehicle-charging infrastructure and expand use of zero-emitting buses and trucks.

The action by Polis is among the most important actions to date by a Mountain West leader to cut carbon pollution from transportation, the biggest source of those emissions nationally. 

Governor Polis was joined today by Republican Senator Kevin Priola (Adams County), business leaders, utilities, conservation groups, and a broad range of stakeholders demonstrating how the desire to spur innovation and tackle climate change can cross partisan lines. While much remains to be done in the coming months, this direction in the governor’s first days illustrates how states are stepping up to address climate change while the Trump administration drives dangerously in reverse on these issues. 

Governor Polis announcing the executive order

The Alliance Center, Denver, Colorado

More Choices of Electric Vehicle Models, More Fuel Savings

Following up on last year’s adoption by the state of greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger cars and trucks, Polis’s action directs the CDPHE to a propose a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) rule by May for potential subsequent adoption. In doing so, Colorado will join with 10 other states across the United States that have already adopted a ZEV program. The standard requires automakers to ensure that they make available sufficient electric vehicle models to result in approximately 9 percent of the passenger vehicles sold being electric-drive by 2025.

The standard would help ensure that automakers—which have announced their intention to introduce new electric models—will offer them for sale in Colorado. Several studies (here and here) have found that some automakers are only offering electric vehicle models in select markets—typically those that have adopted ZEV standards. For example, Coloradans are currently unable to purchase the popular Subaru Crosstrek plug-in hybrid.

Automakers have stated their intent or plans to introduce 80 unique models of battery electric, plug-in hybrid, or fuel cell vehicles by 2021, according to industry analysts Baum & Associates. Twenty of these offerings will be in the sport utility vehicles and crossover segments that are popular in Colorado. In addition, new startups and companies such Workhorse, Rivian, and Tesla are developing full-size utility vehicles and pickup trucks—leading to companies like Ford announcing their intention to build an electric F-series pickup truck.

All-electric pickup truck

Workhorse W-15

While some in the auto industry are moving in this direction, this nascent market needs the prodding from the state to help it gain momentum. The ZEV program will help ensure that all automakers will bring their products to Colorado and more actively market electric vehicles. Automakers and dealers have plenty of time to start preparing, as the ZEV standards in Colorado would begin in model year 2023. 

Kids and Adults Will Breathe Easier Thanks to More Electric Buses and Trucks 

As a result of Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” scandal, states like Colorado were provided with funds to help clean up dangerous pollution from the transportation industry. In the executive order today, Polis has said Colorado will use those funds for new vehicle-charging infrastructure and zero-emitting buses and trucks. Colorado has more than $68 million from the VW settlement to spend on cleaner transportation actions. 

As other diesel truck and SUV manufacturers come under scrutiny for violating emission requirements, policymakers are increasingly looking to ensure settlement funds go to cheat-proof, zero-emission vehicles. Today’s executive order provides the state with additional direction around supporting electric trucks and buses, such as those supported by Protégete, a group running the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign. The group is working with school districts to upgrade their diesel school buses to electric ones, particularly in communities of color and low-income areas that suffer disproportionately from air pollution.

Colorado's EV Plan to Create a Ubiquitous Fueling Network and Save $43 Billion

Governor Polis has also called upon the state to continue its leadership efforts through REV, a regional body of states working to “electrify” interstate highways in the Intermountain States by establishing charging stations to allow EVs to refuel. As fast-charging technology advances to allow ultra-fast refueling, and a network of charging stations stretches across the country, driving electric vehicles is becoming the easiest, cleanest, and lowest-cost alternative for more and more consumers. 

As my colleague Max Baumhefner has blogged on, Coloradans stand to reap $43 billion in potential benefits from widespread adoption of EVs by 2050, according to a recent economic analysis by the consultancy MJ Bradley. This includes $4 billion for electric utility customers in the form of reduced electric bills, $29 billion to drivers in the form of reduced vehicle operating costs, and nearly $10 billion in value from reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Adding the savings from reduced public health costs (not included) would grow those benefits even more.  

Today's announcement by the governor sets Colorado firmly on course to a cleaner, more affordable, and climate-friendly future. 

Don't let Trump and the EPA undermine clean car standards

About the Authors

Simon Mui

Senior Scientist, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Noah Long

Director, Interior West and Northwest, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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