Gov. Jared Polis signs executive order to support transition to electric vehicles

Source: By Trevor Reid, Greeley Tribune • Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2019

In what he billed as a consumer-driven policy, Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday signed an executive order aimed at getting more electric vehicles on Colorado roads and moving the state closer to a zero emissions goal.

Left unanswered, however, was how the resulting reduction in the use of gasoline would affect funding for Colorado’s transportation infrastructure, which relies heavily on gas tax revenue to fund repairs.

The executive order establishes a work group of 17 members from 13 state departments to develop policies and programs supporting the transition to electric vehicles, as well as a revision to the state’s allocation of the remains of $68.7 million it received from the Volkswagen emissions settlement to support electrifying transportation including transit buses, school buses and trucks. Polis said he plans to make appointments to the work group in the coming weeks. The work group will report to the governor beginning July 1 on its progress.

Polis pointed to transportation as a key contributor to local air pollution, causing health complications for children and adults with asthma and other chronic conditions.

“Nationwide and in Colorado, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions,” Polis said.

The executive order also directs the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop a rule establishing a zero-emission vehicle program, proposing that rule to the Air Quality Control Commission by May for possible adoption by Oct. 30. Polis said vehicle manufacturers focus on selling their electric models in states with zero-emission vehicle standards.

“The time to act is now,” Polis said. “I’m proud to say that in the absence of national leadership, states like Colorado, along with local governments and private and public companies, are leading the way on climate.”

Finally, the order directs the Colorado Department of Transportation to develop a zero-emission vehicle and clean transportation plan to align department investments and programs with transportation electrification.

Polis acknowledged that as the number of electric vehicles on the state’s roads grows, officials will have to revisit funding sources for transportation infrastructure, which already faces a deficit.

“As vehicles become more fuel efficient, as we have more zero-emission vehicles, how do we fund our roads that have traditionally been supported by gas taxes?” Polis said in a phone interview with The Tribune after the announcement. “We need to make sure we’re open to having a funding source that reflects vehicles (on Colorado roads).”

Though the state already has the fifth-highest electric vehicle market share in the U.S., Polis said his administration doesn’t see an urgent need to find alternative sources.

The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association criticized the executive order, describing it as including a proposal “to adopt California’s electric vehicle mandates.”

“We trust Colorado consumers, who care about the environment as much as anyone, to be able to freely choose to buy the vehicles that they need at home or work,” Tim Jackson, president and CEO of the association, said in a news release. “Colorado’s consumers do not need the government telling them what vehicles they should buy. Let’s keep car-buying decisions in the hands of our citizens, not unelected California bureaucrats.”

Zero-emission vehicle programs, adopted by 10 states including California, require automobile makers to sell a proportional amount of zero-emission vehicles without putting mandates on consumers. The executive order does not contain any restrictions on tractors or specialized farm equipment, Polis said, to keep the state’s agriculture industry competitive.

Polis said a move to electric vehicles would translate to cost savings for consumers, citing a 2017 study that the savings would include $4.1 billion for electric utility consumers, $29.1 billion in reduced annual vehicle operating and fuel costs and $9.7 billion in health savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Colorado Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Adams County, voiced his support for the executive order, calling it a “significant step forward” towards electrified vehicles and the benefits that come with them.

“We should all be able to come together around the health, environmental, economic and consumer benefits afforded by a swift transition towards zero-emission vehicles,” Priola said.

In the executive order, Polis reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2040.

The governor’s office posted a live broadcast of the announcement on Facebook.