Eagle County Commissioners: Colorado should adopt its own vehicle emission standards (column)
June 7, 2018
A warming climate, caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other pollutants in the atmosphere, has immense implications for Colorado's snowpack, water supply, forest health, wildlife and snow-sports economy.
Globally, the five hottest years on record have occurred since 2010. Regionally, there are now 23 fewer days of freezing temperatures (below 32 degrees) than in the 1970s. Peak runoff of the Colorado River has already occurred this year — its earliest in 50 years and part of a 21st century trend, according to the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
As the world continues to follow a "high greenhouse gas emissions trajectory," the problem of climate change is too hot not to handle. Under this scenario, the Western Slope could experience an average 2.9-degree Fahrenheit increase by 2030 and a 9.7-degree increase by 2090. If we don't make changes in how we power our lives and economy, then Colorado's climate could become more like that of Arizona or Texas.
To slow these temperature increases, we need to cut climate pollution from our power supply, from our homes and businesses and from our vehicles. In Eagle County, dozens of local partners recently adopted the Eagle County Community's Climate Action Plan and are now implementing strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions communitywide.
As Eagle County commissioners, we believe climate change is a threat to our economy and way of life. So, the county participates in several statewide climate action groups, along with the towns of Vail, Avon, Basalt, Minturn and Eagle. And we are in good company, as more than 30 municipalities and counties throughout Colorado have joined forces to confront this issue.
But, of course, state and federal policies have a greater impact because they touch more people. These high-level actions are absolutely needed to turn down the dial on atmospheric pollution and related warming temperatures.
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One major U.S. commitment made under the Paris Climate Accord (of which the United States is no longer a part) was new vehicle emissions standards. These standards require cars and light trucks sold in the United States to average around 50 miles per gallon by 2025. This action would prevent more than 6 billion metric tons — roughly one year's worth of total U.S. carbon emissions — over the lifetime of the vehicles sold. Now that is a meaningful impact. Fuel-efficient cars also save the consumer money in the long run.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in April that it would weaken these clean-car standards, which is contradictory to what many in the general public desire. Polling in October found that 78 percent of Colorado voters strongly support maintaining strong fuel-efficiency standards, not weakening them. The same polling found comparable support in other states around the country, including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has been a strong leader on climate action. After the Trump administration's repeal of the federal Clean Power Plan, which was to be the single largest step America had ever taken to curb climate change, Colorado announced it still planned to exceed the emission-reduction targets laid out in the plan. Part of that strategy was the planned retirement of some of the older coal-fired power plants by the energy industry.
If current emissions standards get rolled back, then it will nearly wipe out the carbon pollution gains from the retirement of both the Comanche 1 and 2 coal-fired power plants located in Pueblo. It will also deeply undermine Colorado's ability to meet the governor's ambitious climate goals.
But whatever the Trump administration does, Colorado has the option of adopting our own emissions standards, as California has done, to preserve both fuel efficiency and pollution improvements. The governor's administration has pushed for strong national vehicle emissions standards. This would be a powerful opportunity for the governor to continue exercising strong leadership on this critical issue.
On behalf of our constituents, we thank Gov. Hickenlooper for his leadership and urge him to adopt advanced clean-car standards for Colorado. Instead of falling backward, we can keep moving forward on reducing climate pollution and strengthening Colorado's economy, which is so heavily dependent upon a healthy environment.
Jill Ryan, Kathy Chandler-Henry and Jeanne McQueeney are Eagle County commissioners.