June 01, 2019

A Leader in Following: Colorado’s Adoption of California Clean Car Standards

Sarah M. Keane and Samantha R. Caravello

In November 2018, Colorado became the latest state to adopt California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for passenger cars and light trucks, a direct rebuke to the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of the corresponding federal standards. Notably, Colorado is one of the first non-coastal states to do so (and the only such state with the rules currently in place), and the eight regulators that unanimously approved the standards represent a wide variety of political and industrial interests. Because section 177 of the federal Clean Air Act (CAA or the Act) provides states with the binary choice of adopting California’s car standards or the federal standards (and does not allow states to adopt their own standards, which could result in a “third car” (i.e., vehicles meeting standards other the federal or California car standards)), Colorado was faced with deciding whether to stick with the federal standards (even if severely weakened) or to join California and a number of other states to avoid the proposed weakening of standards in Colorado and maintain the status quo. Colorado chose to follow California’s path to avoid backsliding if the federal government weakens its standards. If the federal standards are indeed rolled back, Colorado’s status as a low-emission vehicle state may help tilt the balance for car manufacturers away from promoting cleaner vehicles only in select states and instead toward manufacturing a nationwide fleet of lower-emitting vehicles.

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