Cloning California Car Mandates Will Cost Coloradans Dearly

Published August 9, 2018

In June, Colorado’s term-limited Democrat governor, John Hickenlooper, signed an executive order directing his bureaucrats in the state’s public health department to adopt California’s low-emissions vehicles (LEV) standards. While the language in the executive order leaves open the possibility of also adopting California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standards, much of the case for copying the California model derives from the supposed environmental benefits from electric-powered “plug-in” vehicles.

The Governor is fast-tracking his proposal by asking the state’s Air Quality Control Commission to adopt the California standards by an administrative rulemaking process at its August 16 meeting and to make the new rules final by Dec. 30, before he leaves office. The California ZEV emission standards will require 15 percent of all the automobiles sold in the state by 2025 to produce zero greenhouse gas emissions. The California standards will also require conventional internal-combustion-powered automobiles to have their emissions cut by 50 percent over the same period.

Contrary to the claims of its advocates, the Governor’s proposal is not a big victory for cleaner air, but it is a harsh blow to the Colorado economy and the state’s low-income families. At best, Hickenlooper’s lawmaking-by-edict will provide insignificant environmental benefits at an extraordinary cost to Colorado consumers and all of the state’s taxpayers.

Many experts believe the long-term environmental benefits of Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV’s) are highly problematical. A May 2018 study from the respected Manhattan Institute concludes that broad-based adoption of ZEV’s would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions and other associated environmental costs. That’s because ZEVs are only as “green” as the electricity sources they plug into, and even by 2050, power sources for ZEVs won’t be “green” enough because the pollutants they emit in the power generating process will likely exceed emissions from new gasoline-powered vehicles.

“Based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), increased reliance on ZEVs will increase overall emissions of sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and particulates, compared with the same number of new internal combustion vehicles, even after accounting for emissions from petroleum refineries,” the study stated.

The study further concluded there is effectively no economic value of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with ZEVs. “Although new ZEVs will reduce CO2 emissions compared with new internal combustion vehicles, the overall reduction will be less than 1% of total forecast energy-related U.S. CO2 emissions through 2050. That reduction will have no measurable impact on world climate and thus no economic value. Even if, by 2050, all internal combustion vehicles were replaced by ZEVs, the resulting reduction in CO2 emissions would be less than 500 million tons per year. This is less than half the estimated annual impact of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s now-moribund Clean Power Plan, which itself would have had no impact on world climate.”

The exorbitant cost of federal and state subsidies for ZEVs and their charging infrastructure is also highlighted in the Manhattan Institute study. In the end, mostly wealthy Golden State residents will benefit from the taxpayer subsidies.

  • A 2013 study from the University of California at Davis found 83 percent of California ZEV owners had household incomes exceeding $100,000, with 46 percent of them earning incomes above $150,000.
  • The average Tesla owner was found to have a household income of $293,000.
  • A more recent study by the Pacific Research Institute found 79 percentof electric vehicle plug-in tax credits were claimed by households with adjusted gross incomes greater than $100,000.

Thus, by mandating increased ZEV sales, Colorado’s regulatory barons would be essentially asking low-and-middle-income Coloradans to subsidize the purchase of fashionable vehicles for their rich neighbors — in other words, establishing a welfare program for the upper middle class.

How can this radical acceleration of costly vehicle emissions standards be considered sound public policy? Every study shows that air quality in Colorado and across the United States has been steadily improving under the current EPA emissions standards.

As of 2017, carbon dioxide emissions in the United States were at the lowest level recorded since 1992, and per-capita emissions are the lowest they’ve been since 1950.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2018 Greenhouse Gas Inventory, gross greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States decreased by 2.5 percent from 2015 to 2016.

In 2007, GHG emissions were 15.6 percent above 1990 levels; now, GHG emissions are just 2.6 percent above 1990 levels, 11.6 percent below 2005 levels. And air quality should continue to improve as new, cleaner automobiles replace older automobiles.

Additionally, as current national energy trends continue, such as the increased use of natural gas, GHG rates will likely decrease further.

On balance, this is not a good bargain for Coloradans: the questionable, meager environmental gains to be achieved by adopting the California standards are far outweighed by the extraordinary cost to vehicle owners and taxpayers. The Air Quality Control Commission should demonstrate its independence by rejecting Hickenlooper’s costly, regressive proposal. The Governor should find some other, less expensive means to burnish his “legacy.”

[Originally Published at The Hill]