Tapping the Brakes on the Californication of Colorado transportation

California banned the sale of new gas-powered cars. Colorado has taken similar, though less extreme, measures to combat climate change.
Californication of Colorado Transportation
Tapping the Brakes on the Californication of Colorado transportation

Almost a decade ago, David Lewis wrote for Colorado-Biz that Colorado was “a natural-gas leader,” while European-based energy organizations crowed about the “Golden Age of Gas.” Natural gas-powered vehicles were the green-fad de jour in 2013. Many then, and to some extent now, can recall city buses and fleet vehicles with painted exultations of “this vehicle is powered by natural gas.” The reasons natural gas vehicles fell out of favor are enigmatic. Some speculate the fallout was attributable to the election of candidates with a worldview wholly opposed to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

READ — Clearing the Air on Colorado’s Emissions

Perhaps the reason is as simple as the emergence of a more viable alternative. Nearly 10 years after the natural gas vehicle heyday, the new darling in the transportation sector’s role in redressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is the electric vehicle (EV). It didn’t hurt that the falcon wing doors on Tesla’s SUV reminded us of the De-Lorean in “Back to the Future,” minus the ability to time travel.

The clarion call to reduce GHG emissions is supported by research indicating an urgency to act, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which says Colorado’s transportation sector emits more GHGs than any other sector.

Will EVs endure as the preferred panacea for the GHG in Colorado’s atmosphere, or will this remedy go the way of natural gas-powered vehicles? Signs point to the former being the most-probable scenario.

Gov. Jared Polis signed in 2019 an executive order creating a slew of EV-related directives:

  • Creation of an interdepartmental transportation electrification workgroup to develop, coordinate and implement state programs and strategies supporting widespread transportation electrification.
  • Creation of a Zero Emission Vehicle program by CDPHE’s Air Quality Control Commission.
  • Revision of the state’s Beneficiary Mitigation Plan, allocating the remaining $70 million of funds from the federal Volkswagen-emission case to support electrification of transportation.

In 2019, responding to the executive order, CDPHE’s Air Quality Control Commission adopted a Zero Emission Vehicle standard. The Colorado Energy Office then released in 2021 the Pollution Reduction Roadmap, which outlined strategies for transitioning Colorado’s transportation system to achieve 100% electric cars on the road, and a 100% market share for zero-emissions trucks among new sales by 2050. (Colorado already has a stated goal of 940,000 EVs statewide by 2030.)

Lofty goals necessitate aggressive strategies, which is why Polis adopted California’s vehicle standards under Section 177 of the Federal Clean Air Act, mandating zero-emissions vehicles statewide.

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However, the governor stopped short of an outright ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars, as California regulators have done, leaving many to question how committed he is to the cause. Whether the governor tapped the brakes on the Californication of Colorado because of election-year considerations is fair speculation.

Still, the greatest roadblock to achieving EV goals is the charging infrastructure. ColoradoBiz in 2019 reported on the dismal status of EV-charging infrastructure, and progress since then has failed to put a dent in the need. As of 2020, there were 2,000 public chargers. Studies suggest 24,000 will be required to accommodate the 2030 goals: an unfathomable 30% annual growth rate.

In the end, political realities will continue to rule when it comes to environment and transportation policies.

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