The Polis administration won’t consider new clean-trucking policies until next year. Environmental groups aren’t happy.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A truck stop sign in the Plains town of Limon along Interstate 70.

The Polis administration is delaying plans to cut pollution from commercial trucks this spring and summer as planned, opting to wait until the end of the year to launch the process to write new rules designed to cut climate-warming emissions and smog-forming gasses from the freight industry. 

Climate advocates learned about the new timeline during an online meeting Tuesday. CPR News obtained a recorded portion of the call, which includes the state’s top environmental leaders laying out their reasoning for effectively punting the policymaking process into 2023.

In the recording, Shaun McGrath, director of environmental health and protection at the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, said the extra time would allow for outreach to “disproportionately impacted communities” so the state could build a “defensible policy.”

That justification angered many environmental justice advocates, who’d pushed the state to enact the new policies as soon as possible.

“I think we’ve made it pretty loud and clear that frontline communities want this,” Ean Thomas Tafoya, state director for GreenLatinos, told state officials on the call. “It’s either we accept these rules or we don’t.”

Bri Morris, founder of Green Thumbs for Black Power, told officials any slowdown would make it harder, not easier, to bring other Black people into the political process. 

“A lot of Black folks feel like they have bigger fish to fry when it comes to environmental justice,” Morris said. “Delaying policies such as this only exacerbates the issue.”

New clean-trucking rules were about to be under consideration

The delay comes as Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission was scheduled to consider a pair of clean-trucking rules over the next few months.

One would force truck manufacturers to increase sales of zero-emission electric trucks and buses. The other would require traditional gasoline and diesel-powered trucks to produce less nitrous oxide, a key ingredient in dangerous ground-level ozone pollution.

In October 2021, a coalition of state agencies released a study on the potential environmental benefits of an aggressive clean-trucking strategy. It found adopting both rules could help the state meet its climate targets and result in significant air quality improvements. Modeling showed the policies could slash overall greenhouse gas emissions from medium and heavy-duty vehicles by 45 percent below by 2050, compared to predicted emissions without the measures. Nitrous oxide emissions could drop by 54 percent by the same year. 

The rules are also part of a national strategy to cut pollution in neighborhoods near major freight routes. California became the first state to adopt an advanced clean-truck rule in 2020. Since then, five others have adopted the same policy to drive a market for more zero-emissions trucks and buses.

Colorado appeared ready to join the group this year. In 2020, Polis signed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote the adoption of electric trucks and buses along with 14 other states and the District of Columbia. A coalition of state agencies also held a series of public meetings to gather input on its eventual zero-emission truck strategy.

According to an update to state lawmakers, the process was meant to help air commissioners adopt the clean-trucking rule in August 2022.

A meeting between the administration and environmental groups did not go well

In the meeting with environmental groups, Will Toor, the director of the Colorado Energy Office, said the delay would help align the final clean-trucking policy with other efforts to promote electric vehicles, such as new state electric vehicle programs and federal infrastructure spending for more vehicle chargers. 

McGrath with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment told attendees the delay could also help bring the trucking industry on board with the rulemaking process. He said companies might be more receptive to new requirements at the end of the year when global supply chain issues are expected to ease.

Those points made little sense to Aaron Kressig, the transportation electrification manager for Western Resource Advocates. In an interview, he said the clean-truck rule wasn’t set to take effect until 2025, giving the state plenty of time to align it with other environmental policies and work with the industry.

“If it's not done by the end of this calendar year, we lose a year of effectiveness,” he said. “It also pushes everything on the [Air Quality Control Commission] calendar a year back.”

Members of multiple environmental groups said they would explore other options to push air regulators to consider and approve the clean-trucking rule, including a petition to force the issue ahead of the November elections.

Polis' administration maintains the timeline is as 'aggressive as possible to get it right'

In an emailed response to CPR News, Toor defended the new timeline and said the administration never committed to adopting clean-trucking rules in 2022.

Toor said the Polis administration worked with the legislature last year to invest $750 million in the electrification of cars, trucks and buses over the next decade. The Governor’s Office has also proposed a $400 million air quality package in his latest budget, which includes proposed funding for electric school buses.

“The months ahead are an important time for stabilizing global supply chain issues — with major national efforts underway in areas like producing enough microchips to build the clean vehicles that our country needs,” Toor said, adding that the delay would help the administration better coordinate the new regulations with others, a “sequencing” he said was crucial to clean transportation rules for passenger cars.

Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office, said the administration’s timeline is as “aggressive as possible to get it right.” 

“What’s come into focus is that we need to get the investment plans for the transportation electrification enterprises in place and to quickly pass the Governor’s clean air package which includes a clean-trucking component in order to set up the most robust rulemaking possible,” Cahill said.

The new timeline will likely be made official during Thursday's Air Quality Control Commission meeting. According to a presentation submitted in advance of the meeting, state regulators expect to start writing the rule this year and hold public hearings in 2023. The clean-trucking policy will take effect in 2026.

More stories about electric vehicles and climate in Colorado: