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Opinion: There’s a better road to cleaner vehicles than California’s ZEV standard

The Sun’s June 6 piece, “Front Range air quality is terrible, but Colorado’s efforts are showing some improvement in ozone pollution,” presented an imbalanced picture of the state of environmental quality in Colorado. The overwhelmingly good news on our air quality, although noted in the piece, was overshadowed by a headline and quotes calling the situation “terrible.” The misperceptions this creates could send Colorado down the wrong road when it comes to expanding the future market for alternative fuel vehicles – a goal we all agree on.

Electric vehicles and other new technologies have a bright future in Colorado and across the U.S. – Colorado already is No. 6 in their use. As the market matures, we will do even better. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to lower air emissions.

Sara Almerri

To its credit, The Sun several times acknowledges that “the region has steadily seen a decline” in air pollution over time, and that “emissions that can be lowered through human control have declined.” It also correctly highlights air quality factors that are “out of state control,” including wildfires, geography, power plant emissions and “ozone coming from neighboring states.”

Acknowledging air quality improvements isn’t an argument for complacency, or for ignoring lingering problems. All Coloradans support sensible, scientifically-sound, cost-effective steps to keep overall air quality improvements on track, and to address lingering problems that are within our power to correct. Therefore, to act as if the situation is deteriorating overall, when by virtually all measures it is improving, risks creating a “crisis” mindset where no crisis exists.

While there is more work to be done, the key takeaway is that our air quality is steadily improving. The situation just doesn’t justify an unnecessarily costly or counterproductive overreaction.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Tying our state to California’s zero-emission vehicle mandates is frankly regressive. Increasing new vehicle prices by an estimated $2,000 to $3,000 will harm low- and middle-income working families by pricing them out of the market. It also will adversely affect our farming and ranching industries and other rural neighbors.

We cannot have regulations that only benefit one segment of the population at the expense of working-class families and small businesses that are dependent on their vehicles to get to work, transport their goods to market, or get to town in the middle of winter.

Furthermore, despite surface similarities, California and Colorado differ significantly as vehicle markets, creating an apples and oranges mismatch on these mandates. Greater consumer demand in Colorado for light trucks – i.e. pickups and SUVs – means that benchmarks designed with California car-buyers in mind present a daunting challenge that greatly decreases the likelihood of success here.

And will the Governor’s proposal, although well-intentioned, deliver the desired results? Despite strictest-in-the-nation mandates and massive expenditures, California’s clean car programs have NOT succeeded in reducing overall vehicle emissions — meaning Colorado is signing on to a fatally flawed policy that imposes high costs on consumers but delivers little to no benefit for the environment.

Let’s do this the right way.

First, any major change in public policy – especially one which will have wide-reaching impacts across various segments of society – should go through the legislative process and be voted on by our elected representatives after hearing all sides and having a full debate. An unelected Commission should not be implementing such broad policy decisions by fiat, especially ones which are crafted in and for another state.

Second, we need to set realistic goals. It will take years to build out the required infrastructure, and to get affordable electric vehicles available to the general public. Let’s move the ball forward in a way that doesn’t punish new vehicle-buyers, keeps transportation affordable, respects consumer choice and won’t harm Colorado’s economy.

All Coloradans share the goal of cleaner air, and our Governor should be saluted for bold leadership, but we can achieve the same results without the pain the current proposed regulations will cause. Coloradans value clean air and we are well on the path to better air quality, without the need for unworkable mandates that will hurt our most vulnerable populations.

We do not need to be over-regulated; nor should we follow directives from another state. We can move the state forward with less unnecessary cost and controversy by following one simple rule: To our own state be true!

Sara Almerri is the public affairs director for the Freedom To Drive Coalition.

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