Almost every car, SUV and pickup truck for sale in Colorado in less than a decade will be powered by a rechargeable battery if a state agency this week approves a plan to increase the number of electric vehicles on the state’s road.
The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission will consider a rule that would require auto manufacturers to make 80% of all new cars for sale in the state have zero emissions by 2032 as part of an effort to clean the state’s polluted air.
Cars and trucks on Colorado’s roads are the biggest sources of air pollution in the state, and passenger vehicles represent about 65% of those emissions, said Kelly Blynn, the Colorado Energy Office’s transportation climate change specialist.
“Obviously, there’s important air quality and climate benefits,” Blynn said of the proposal to ramp up the sale of electric vehicles.
The proposed rule has the support of Gov. Jared Polis, who released a new Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan in March, which called for 1 million electric cars and SUVs on the state’s roads by 2035.
Under the proposed rule, the percentage of new electric vehicles for sale would increase incrementally, beginning with the 2027 model year. The rule would not outlaw gas-powered cars and pickup trucks, so motorists could still purchase and drive used cars, or travel to other states to buy them.
Already, the state is requiring more electric semitrailers and other heavy-duty vehicles to be sold, starting in 2027. That plan, approved by the Air Quality Control Commission in April, created a goal for 40% of all heavy-duty truck sales to be zero emission by 2035.
Once again, in a move that is common during the commission’s rulemaking procedures, environmentalists will ask the commissioners at this week’s meetings to consider a more strict alternate proposal. A coalition will urge the commission to adopt a policy that requires electric vehicles to make up 100% of all new car sales by 2035.
“We believe the rule is the best path to get to the state’s transportation targets as far as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to improve air quality and public health,” said John Magnino, senior director for government affairs for Conservation Colorado.
But Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office, said the state would revisit its clean car rules before 2032 and update its policy as needed. It would be unlikely for gas-powered car sales to ever be tops in the state again, he said.
The proposed rule, which was drafted by state officials, has the support of multiple business groups, including Lyft, Lime, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., REI, Clif Bars and Arapahoe Basin Skiing Company.
Ceres, a nonprofit that works with private industry on environmental issues, also wanted Colorado to require 100% of all sales to be electric by 2035 so it would be consistent with other states that have similar rules. Six states including California already are requiring the move by 2035 and six more have a rule in the works, said Alli Gold Roberts, Ceres’ senior director for state policy.
Ceres and the coalition it represents will support the 2032 goal, she said.
“Businesses want to transition their vehicle fleets to zero emissions to reduce their emissions, improve air quality and, of course, lower the total cost of ownership,” Roberts said.
The Colorado Auto Dealers Association also supports the proposal because of its overall strategy of reducing toxic air emissions, said Matthew Groves, the association’s chief executive officer.
But auto dealers have concerns about the cars’ affordability for lower and middle-income families and the country’s lack of infrastructure to support millions of electric vehicles on the roads.
“We’re on board,” Groves said. “We’re doing our part. But we see a rough environment ahead.”
Between 2011 and 2023, Colorado auto dealers sold 100,000 electric vehicles in Colorado with sales steadily increasing in the past couple of years as consumers apply for federal and state tax credits to offset the purchase price, Groves said. But the new rule would mean 840,000 new electric vehicles would need to be in showrooms by 2032 to make the goal set by the Air Quality Control Commission.
The auto industry is amidst a labor strike, high interest rates are making car-buying even more expensive, and the supply chain for minerals used to make rechargeable batteries is complicated, he said.
“We are pro-battery,” Groves said. “We just want it to be economical.”
Meanwhile, environmental groups such as GreenLatinos Colorado, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council want the state to completely eliminate the sale of new gas-powered cars and trucks by 2035.
“By increasing the number of electric vehicles, we’re reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes and improving our air quality,” said Juan Roberto Madrid, GreenLatinos Colorado’s clean transportation and energy policy advocate.
Colorado needs to move to eliminate all gas-powered vehicles to protect the state’s most disproportionately impacted communities — people who live near interstates, busy highways and industrial areas — who breathe the most pollution, he said.
The hundreds of thousands of cars, SUVs and pickup trucks on the road emit a combination of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that mix on hot summer days to form a smog that blankets the Front Range and obscures the state’s famous mountain views. The pollution also causes asthma flare-ups and other breathing problems, especially in children and older adults.
In 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency said a nine-county region in the northern Front Range was in severe violation of national air quality standards, a reclassification that forces consumers to buy more expensive gasoline and leads to more businesses needing to apply for air pollution permits to make their products.
Get more Colorado news by signing up for our Mile High Roundup email newsletter.