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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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Cottongrass blows in the wind at the edge of Etivlik Lake, Alaska. Western Arctic National Parklands / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tara Lohan

Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.

Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.

"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."

Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.

It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.

Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.

Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.

One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.

The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.

They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.

"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."

That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.

And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.

"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."

Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.

"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.

The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.

"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."


Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.