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Colorado Revs Up, Adopts Zero-Emission Vehicle Program

Renewable Energy
Colorado Revs Up, Adopts Zero-Emission Vehicle Program
A zero-emission electric car in Vail, Colorado on July 31. Sharon Hahn Darlin / CC BY 2.0

By Simon Mui

States across the country are stepping up to make clean cars cheaper and easier to find. Colorado's Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) voted Friday to adopt a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program that will increase the availability of electric vehicles in the state, improve air quality and increase transportation affordability.


In doing so, Colorado joins together with ten other states that have already adopted ZEV programs and follows up on its adoption of state clean car requirements limiting emissions of greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants from all new passenger vehicles. All told, 30% of the U.S. vehicle market is now covered by a ZEV program.

The adoption is the latest rebuff to the Trump administration's proposed rollback to federal clean car standards, which Consumer Reports estimates will cost U.S. consumers $460 billion more at the gas pump. Governors from 24 states, including Colorado's Jared Polis, now oppose the rollback.

NRDC — as part of the broader Environmental Coalition that includes Western Resource Advocates, Environmental Defense Fund, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and Sierra Club — provided comments supporting strong ZEV standards as good for the environment, good for consumers and good for Colorado. Some of the other supporting parties included the Environmental Justice Coalition, Colorado Communities for Climate Action representing 25 local governments and the Local Government Coalition.

Environmental Coalition's expert witnesses (Shannon Baker-Barnstetter, Chuck Shulock, Aaron Kressig, Gwen Farnsworth, John German, Chet France, Tom Bloomfield, Sarah Keane). Right to Left.

Coloradans and people across the country are excited about clean cars. They're passionate about clean air, having more electric vehicle options at dealerships and reducing their contributions to climate change. Here are three things that will happen in Colorado as a result of the ZEV program:

Consumers Will Have More Electric Vehicle Options at Dealerships

If we want more clean cars on the road, automakers will need to make more clean cars available to Colorado consumers. Period. While automakers offer 41 EVs in the U.S., it turns out Coloradans are not being provided with these choices. Based on a survey of all dealership inventories, a Denver customer would only be able to find 24 out of those 41 models. That number drops to just 16 models available in Fort Collins, seven in Colorado Springs, three in Pueblo and just two models in Grand Junction. Consumers face an EV desert in Colorado.

Source: Dealership inventory from Cars.com with assistance by NESCAUM.

A look at automakers' current advertising in Colorado reflects a similar story. Most automakers spent virtually nothing in Colorado on EV advertising or education for consumers compared to the tens of millions spent annually for gas-guzzling models they sell. Nissan appears to be a standout based on the data, but unfortunately, they are the lone exception rather than the rule.

With the adoption of the ZEV program, 4 to 5% of the vehicles that automakers deliver for sale to dealers would need to be EVs by 2025. We note that the sales level reflects the Commission's adoption of an alternative proposal developed by the Colorado Department of Energy and Department of Transportation, the Auto Alliance of Manufacturers and Global Automakers that provides a significantly easier path to meeting the original proposal, which would have required 7 to 8% sales by 2025.

While some automakers such as Nissan, BMW and Volvo are already exceeding the more modest 2025 requirements as of 2018, other automakers are far behind and not even making EVs available in Colorado, despite making them available elsewhere. Colorado's adoption will help push all automakers, especially laggards, to do more and will set up the state for even higher volumes after 2025.

Less Carbon Pollution and Improved Air Quality

Throughout the hearings, state government representatives, the Regional Air Quality Council and residents suffering from air pollution testified on the need to move toward electric transportation to help address air quality problems in Colorado, particularly in the Front Range. One of the benefits of the program is avoiding vehicles with internal combustion engines. EVs are the only technology that, once on the road, is projected to get cleaner over time as the electricity grid gets cleaner in Colorado. By comparison, emission controls from internal combustion engines can suffer from the impacts of deterioration, malfunction or even tampering — these events can lead to "super-emitters" on the road that emit 2 to 4 times more emissions when on the road than they are supposed to emit. EVs bypass this problem entirely because they don't have any tailpipe emissions.

All told, if EVs reach about 8% sales in Colorado, carbon pollution would be conservatively reduced by an estimated 2.2 million metric tons through model year 2030. Smog-forming pollutants would also be reduced.

All Consumers Benefit From EVs

Both primary and secondary buyers of EVs stand to see significant economic benefits from the ZEV program. With battery prices continuing to drop rapidly, the costs of EVs are projected to reach initial, up-front cost parity with gasoline internal combustion engines between 2024 and 2029 depending on the vehicle class, according to a study by ICCT. In terms of lifetime vehicle savings, EV drivers are expected to save between $3,200 and $12,000 depending on the vehicle class. Those savings are largely driven by significant reductions in fuel and maintenance costs.

Accelerating EV adoption with the ZEV program will benefit not only EV drivers but all residents in the form of downward pressure on rates. Two studies by MJ Bradley and Associates, commissioned by NRDC, show that adoption of EVs will lead to improved utilization of the electricity grid, especially since most EV charging occurs at night when there is spare capacity on the grid. An assessment of utility revenues in California from EV charging shows EV customers contribute much more to the grid than they cost from the grid. Regulated utilities are required to return that additional revenue to all utility customers in the form of lower rates and bills, as my colleague has blogged on here. A second study by MJ Bradley projects similar results for Colorado as it ramps up its EV fleet.

Clean cars mean cleaner air, which means fewer ozone days, easier breathing for Coloradans and a meaningful reduction in pollutants that contribute to climate change. But we won't see as much of these benefits without more zero-emission vehicles on the road. A Colorado ZEV program will have a meaningful impact by ensuring all automakers start making more EV products available to consumers.

Simon Mui is a senior scientist in the Climate & Clean Energy program with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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