A 1985 Kenworth W900

A 1985 Kenworth W900 semi is still a common sight on Colorado roads, but according to industry and health officials diesel trucks today emit as much as 95% less greenhouse gas emissions than they did in the 1980s.

Colorado is part of a new deal involving several states to advance electric trucks and buses, the latest step in Gov. Jared Polis' campaign promise to clean the air and move the state toward renewable energy.

Colorado is joining 14 states and the District of Columbia in the plan to get at least a 30% in emissions reductions from new medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2030, and 100% by 2050 in an agreement announced this week.

The move's major benefits, besides curbing greenhouse gases and improving, is an avenue to more electrification in the state's transportation system, better local delivery and potentially some help for truckers who would like to replace their older vehicles, even if it's new diesel models that emit up 95% less than trucks on the road since 1988. 

This week's announcement commences "a collaborative dialogue" involving everyone from truck makers to government regulators about "clean trucking," according to a summary of the proposal worked out over the last month.

"I'm real optimistic that, given the relationship we have between the state and the motor carriers, that we can break some ground here," CDOT executive director Shoshana Lew said in an interview Wednesday morning.

She said having the discussion is the first step in finding the money to replace trucks, beef up the grid and, potentially, attract federal stimulus money and other investments in a cleaner transportation grid.

"There's never going to be enough money," Lew said. "As we think about the policies that make the most sense, we're looking at things that will make a difference. Some of these things will cost money, but some of these things we can do with the resources we have."

The partnership is led by the Colorado Department of Transportation looping in the the state Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Energy Office.

The initial analysis and conversations will address opportunities for fleet turnover, especially older trucks, before federal standards were raised in 2014, that play an "outsized role" in emissions, according to the initial outline of the proposal.

Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, the 650 companies in the state involved in moving freight is open to good and reasonable solutions.

"We live in this state, and it's our state," he said of truckers. "Our families live here and we care about the future for our children and grandchildren. We have been long committed and we've made tremendous progress already over the years in terms of reducing emissions."

He added about the potential range of strategies to get there, "We can do more and we want to do more."

The trucker's trade group recommended a focus on incentives and voluntary efforts, citing the Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay program.

Fulton said the industry helps employ 100,000 Coloradans.

Joey Bunch: The Colorado highway director Shoshana Lew's outlook comes from the intersection of infrastructure and finance, first at the Office of Management and Budget and then as the top transparency office in how the recession's stimulus money was spent on transportation, before a stint as the Rhode Island highway department's chief operating officer. 

Transportation remains the largest source of air pollution in Colorado and yet the economy depends on moving freight. Lew noted that the COVID-19 shutdown prompted more reliance on delivery services, and she expects that sector to continue to evolve.

Key also is getting shippers with major fleets, such as UPS or Amazon, to shift more to electric vehicles to support large scale transition to ZEV vehicles, according to the draft of the proposal. Reducing emissions from "last mile" deliveries is a substantial goal, especially to reduce emissions in downtown areas.

“No package delivered by a diesel truck is worth dirty air, asthma and climate change," Hannah Collazo, the state director for Environment Colorado, said in a statement. "It's time to shift past the old way of thinking and move toward a clean environment with trucks that don't pollute. Clean electric trucks can clear the air and help stave off the worst impacts of climate change. That's the delivery we are all waiting for.”

It's important that clean air and climate change are part of that evolution, she said.

"A lot of the fleet that's on the road now is as old as I am," said the 37-year-old state and national transportation leader.

Will Toor, who heads up Polis' energy office, characterized the move as another piece of a much larger puzzle for Colorado.

“As utilities rapidly shift to renewable sources of energy to power their grids, we have an opportunity to magnify the benefits by supporting large-scale electrification of transportation including trucks and buses” he said in a statement, announcing the partnership. “We will explore opportunities for collaboration among utilities, manufacturers, fleets and the public sector to reduce emissions in the state’s truck fleet while keeping this vital part of the economy thriving for us all.”

The last two years, the Democratic-held legislature, led by House Speaker KC Becker of Boulder, passed long-term changes to testing and air quality aimed at curbing climate change, while the state’s Air Quality Control Commission and Air Pollution Control Division are develop comprehensive programs to address ozone and other pollutants.

John Putnam, the director of environmental programs for the state health department, called it a question of environmental justice, as well, as pollution from heavy traffic disproportionately affects communities such as North Denver and Commerce City.

"We have established a strong track record of working collaboratively with stakeholders to solve these problems creatively and thoughtfully," he said in a statement. "We are looking to take a similar approach with heavy duty vehicles and trucks.”

They also will pursue efforts to continue to clean up diesel emissions, including .public-private partnerships to replace high emitting diesel trucks with cleaner models.

The state also will need to develop infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles using electrification and hydrogen fuel cells for the technologies to proliferate and meet the 2050 goals.

“We should never accept unhealthy air days as the cost of getting around," stated Danny Katz,  director of Colorado Public Interest Research Group, more commonly called CoPIRG. "The technology is there to not only switch to cleaner, electric-powered passenger cars but also to ditch dirty diesel trucks. This MOU demonstrates the state’s commitment to pursuing cleaner trucks that will reduce air pollution, fight global warming, and lower vehicle fuel and maintenance costs. I’m glad to see Gov. Polis and Colorado’s leadership on this.”

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