Colorado to adopt California fuel economy standards as Trump seeks to end them

Colorado to adopt California fuel economy standards as Trump seeks to end them

California rules would stick to aggressive Obama-era mileage standards that Trump's administration says are not practical.

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November 21, 2018

Cleveland, Ohio – Colorado has become the 14th state to adopt California’s more-stringent fuel economy rules as federal rulemakers look to undue legal waivers that allow multiple standards to exist.

Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order to the state’s Air Quality Control Commission in June to consider the rules, and the board unanimously approved the proposal in November, following hearings. Beginning in the 2022 model year, Colorado vehicles will need to meet more-stringent fuel-economy standards, and a portion of vehicles will need to be zero-emission electric drive models.

“Adopting low emission vehicles in Colorado means we will continue to see more fuel efficient vehicles that get better mileage. This has been the plan for many years,” Hickenlooper said.

Colorado will follow Washington D.C. and 12 other states in following California’s rules. However, President Donald Trump’s administration has begun pushing for lower standards, and those proposals call for an end to the waiver that California gets from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowing it to set different standards.

The federal rules are still going through the public comments and regulatory process, and if Trump cancels California’s waiver, that state and several environmental groups have pledged to sue, likely tying the issue up in courts for years to come.

In August, when regulators filed proposed EPA rules, acting administrator Andrew Wheeler said, “Our proposal aims to strike the right regulatory balance based on the most recent information and create a 50-state solution that will enable more Americans to afford newer, safer vehicles that pollute less. More realistic standards can save lives while continuing to improve the environment.”

The 50-state standard language refers to having one national standard, not one for California and its followers and another for all other states. Automakers have sought a single national standard for decades as the dueling standards mean producing different vehicle fleets for different states.

In 2012, when automakers and then-President Barack Obama’s administration agreed to aggressive rules that would set a 54.5mpg fuel economy standard by 2025, part of the incentive for automakers was having a single standard because the new rules satisfied California regulators.

However, many of the assumptions in 2012, most notably the percentage of cars sold vs. trucks and sport utility vehicles, turned out to be wildly wrong, leading to a sales environment doomed to miss upcoming standards. In the last days of his administration, Obama tried to establish a tougher environmental standard, but Trump’s EPA overruled that effort.

California plans to stick to the more-aggressive 2025 standards, as do the states that follow its rules. With Colorado on board, California’s rules will cover about 40% of the U.S. automotive market.

About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 18 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.

rschoenberger@gie.net