Rollback of Federal Clean Car Standards Bad for Colorado Wallets, Health

Media Contacts

CoPIRG Foundation

Coloradans have saved $550 million at the pump and avoided putting dangerous smog forming pollutants into our air since the federal government adopted clean car standards in 2012. Despite having huge benefits for Coloradan’s pocketbooks and Colorado’s air, the Trump administration intends to roll back the clean car standards.

When it passed in 2012, the standards required the fuel-efficiency of cars and light trucks to double by 2025 and, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, no other federal policy is delivering as much oil savings, consumer benefits, and greenhouse gas emission reductions as the 2012 action.

“Our quality of life in Colorado depends on clean air, a healthy environment, and low transportation costs – all of which are undermined if the Trump administration lets car companies produce fuel-inefficient cars,” says Danny Katz, Director of CoPIRG Foundation. “Rolling back these standards is a direct threat to our quality of life and it’s unacceptable.” 

The 2012 federal clean car standards pushed car manufacturers to make their cars more fuel efficient, which means the average on-road fuel economy of new cars and trucks in 2025 would be 37 mpg versus an average of 21 mpg in 2011. The higher fuel-efficiency means that if the standard says in place the average Colorado household would see $2,700 in savings by 2030 from lower gas bills, even if you factor in a higher up front price for a vehicle. 

Keeping the clean car standards in place will also help the 343,000 Coloradans who struggle with asthma, because we will avoid putting lots of dangerous smog forming pollution in our air. Smog, or ground-level ozone, causes a host of respiratory consequences, ranging from coughing, wheezing and throat irritation, to asthma, increased risk of infection, and permanent damage to lung tissue. Emissions of smog-causing air pollutants from vehicles would increase by about 15 percent if the standards were completely rolled back.

Colorado’s air is already too dirty and rolling back the clean car standards will only exacerbate our air pollution problems. According to an Environment Colorado Research and Policy Center report, the greater Denver area ranked the 6th worst in the country for bad air days in 2015, with 176 days of elevated smog pollution. Fort Collins had 136 days, Greeley had 114 days, Durango had 94 days, Glenwood Springs had 91 days, Grand Junction had 81 days and Colorado Springs had 79 days. The American Lung Association’s 2016 State of the Air report found the Denver-Aurora area was the 8th worst ozone-polluted city in the country. 

The clean car standards is also helping to avoid greenhouse gas emissions but rolling them back could lead an increase in carbon emissions in Colorado of 3.9 million tons per year.  

The transportation system in Colorado has a big impact on our health, our wallets, and the quality of life in our state. 

  • The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimated that transportation would be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 2020
  • Transportation accounts for approximately one-third of the smog-forming nitrogen oxide (NOx) in the Denver metro area according to the Regional Air Quality Council. 
  • According to AAA the average cost of owning and operating a vehicle in 2017 is $8,649. 

“The federal clean car standards save Coloradans money every time we fuel up at the pump and results in less air pollution every time we drive because technology has allowed cars and trucks to run more efficiently. But now, despite our technological advances, the Trump administration wants to roll back one of the most successful policies that saves us money and reduces air pollution. It’s outrageous,” said Katz.

Car companies have made huge advances in fuel efficiency and are rolling out new electric vehicles that help meet the federal standards. GM plans to launch 20 EV models by 2023, while Ford announced last month it plans to invest $11 billion in electric vehicles and hybrids, with a goal of having 40 models by 2022. These new cars don’t just check off the “electric” box; they’re earning acclaim from mainstream car enthusiasts. Motor Trend even named Chevrolet’s Bolt the 2017 Car of the Year.

Meeting the clean car standards by expanding electric vehicle production would advance even more savings to consumers and have an even bigger impact on our air quality. Not only are electric vehicles much cleaner, reducing emissions of smog forming Nitrogen Oxides by 38% compared to a new gasoline vehicles, they also save consumers money. Plug In America estimates that an average driver saves $860 a year in fuel costs driving an electric vehicle. 

Thirteen states have taken action to adopt a state clean car standard and will continue to see cost savings and pollution reductions from the fuel-efficient and zero emission electric vehicles that car companies will be required to continue to sell in their states. Unfortunately, Colorado is not one of those states. 

“Colorado cannot sit by and let car companies dump their dirtier, gas-guzzling vehicles in our state if the Trump administration rolls back the national standards. We need Governor Hickenlooper to meet this threat head on,” said Katz. 

The Trump administration’s action to weaken the clean car standards comes despite reviews by the EPA in January 2017 and the state of California in March 2017 that concluded the standards remain appropriate. In addition, automakers are developing and deploying fuel efficient technologies at a faster rate and with lower compliance costs than projected. 

After the EPA’s final determination to weaken the standards, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is expected to announce their own proposed revisions on the standards in June. Once NHTSA and EPA have both made their recommendations, they will have to go through the process of rewriting the standards.