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Colorado Air Quality Control Commission approves low emission vehicle standards beginning in 2022 model year

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) approved new low emission vehicle (LEV) standards for new light-duty and medium-duty motor vehicles sold in Colorado beginning in the 2022 model year. (Earlier post.) The new standards are estimated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 2 million tons annually by 2030.

The Air Pollution Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment proposed the adoption of the LEV standards in response to Gov. Hickenlooper’s 19 June Executive Order, “Maintaining Progress on Clean Vehicles,” which directed the department to develop a rule to establish a Colorado LEV program incorporating the requirements of the California LEV program.

Following public hearings last week, the commission unanimously approved the new standards that incorporate specific provisions of the California LEV III standards for MY 2022 vehicles and beyond. The commission adopted Regulation 20, known as the Colorado Low Emission Automobile Regulation (or CLEAR), prompting Colorado to join 12 other states and the District of Columbia, which also have adopted California’s LEV standards. These states now make up nearly 40% of the new automobile market.

Under CLEAR, manufacturers must meet fleet-wide average GHG emission standards, although multiple flexibilities built into rule.

  • Separate standards for cars and trucks.

  • Standards adjusted based on vehicle footprints; manufacturers making larger vehicles will be subject less stringent fleet-wide average standards.

  • Credits and debits for over- and under-compliance, with a 5 year lifetime.

  • Credits may be bought or sold.

CLEAR does not affect:

  • Heavy-duty trucks or non-road vehicles;

  • Fuel specifications;

  • Pre-2022 model year vehicles; or

  • Used vehicles brought into the state.

Only the federal government and California have the authority to set new motor vehicle emission standards. New cars and light-duty trucks sold in Colorado currently are subject to the federal Tier 3 emission standards. Under the Clean Air Act, California has the authority to adopt its own new vehicle emission standards. Once California has adopted a specific set of emission standards, other states can choose to adopt those standards in lieu of the federal standards, pursuant to section 177 of the Clean Air Act. California first adopted its LEV standards in the 1990s.

Currently, the federal emission and California LEV standards are equivalent. Under both sets of rules, the greenhouse gas emission limits become increasingly more stringent through the 2025 model year.

The federal government, however, CA has recently proposed to freeze the emission standards for model years 2021 - 2026. The adoption of CLEAR provides a backstop for Colorado in the event of the federal change.

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