If they can’t make it here, they can’t make it anywhere.
For all their promise throttled by limitations, electric vehicles are becoming a political big deal faster than they can go from zero to 60.
Gov. Jared Polis added another applause line to his first re-election speech Aug. 16 when the state Air Quality Control Commission adopted a "zero emission vehicle" program requiring auto dealers to offer more than 5% zero-emission vehicles by 2023 and more than 6% zero-emission vehicles by 2025.
It wasn’t even close. After hours of testimony over two days, the commission voted 8-1 to declare Colorado a hub for electric vehicles.
Advocates handed the commission studies on things such as the effects of air pollution on the human brain and worsening climate change.
The hearing and new standard represent a passionate pitch to, in effect, sell some cars — a bold statement, but hardly the first sentence.
"We will lead with policies that support, enable and accelerate market investment," Polis promised in his first State of the State address in January. "We will work with stakeholders across Colorado on outcomes-based approaches that promote innovation, and that deliver emissions reductions from all sources, reductions in consumer costs, and sustainable economic growth for communities across Colorado."
When Polis became the state's chief executive, he enjoyed the benefit of having fellow Democrats in charge of the state House and Senate, including fellow Boulder residents in House Speaker KC Becker and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg. That's all the progressive horsepower a governor like Polis could want.
In the last legislative session, Democrats passed bills to create more charging stations, extend a tax credit and impose steep fines on those who park regular cars in spots reserved to charge electric vehicles.
The first executive order Polis signed when he took office in January was to boost ZEV use, and greener travel is central to what we know so far of his transportation plan.
Lawmakers built a price on the social cost of carbon when they reauthorized the state Public Utilities Commission this spring, using price as a motivating factor to use renewables.
Putting electric cars on the lot is only half the equation. First comes the offer; next must come the sale. There is no mandate for anybody to drive an electric vehicle, even though Colorado is working overtime to make the option as attractive as possible.
Electric vehicles are said to reduce carbon emissions over combustion engines by 43%, though rural, mountainous and truck-loving sectors of Colorado still seem a skeptical market for a plug-in whip.
The Colorado Independent Automobile Dealers Association tried to tap the brakes on expectations. There are more tradeoffs than clear coat and floor mats when considering going green.
“Let ZEV market develop as technology advances,” the auto dealers urged the commission. “Demand is low for vehicles that are priced higher than comparable gas-powered vehicles, have limited range, restricted to certain highways, inadequate charging locations and prolonged charging times.
“Colorado consumers have discovered that manufacturer and onboard range estimates do not factor in hills, cold weather, hot weather, wet weather, wind, etc. Range is normally less than projected which produces disenchanted customers.”
That's worrisome to Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of the 24,000-member Colorado Farm Bureau. Most Colorado vehicles now are trucks and sport-utility vehicles, which lag behind sedans. On farms and ranches, that market penetration is much, much deeper, and charging stations are still in the distant future for towns without a stoplight.
"As a result, while some may want to purchase low- and zero-emitting vehicles, the existing technology and vehicle mix does not currently make that kind of choice feasible for rural vehicle buyers," Vorthmann said, and the rules will "leave much of rural Colorado vehicle buyers and auto dealers with no feasible way to comply with the standard. As a result, this will shift the cost of compliance away from urban buyers and sellers, who can more readily comply, and onto rural areas."
Higher prices for all vehicles, especially greener ones, could lead to people driving older vehicles longer, stalling the very benefits the policy aims to clean up.
And this is all quite political, well-intentioned as it may be.
The Trump administration is to roll out a plan by the end of summer — meaning soon — to relax federal emissions standards set by the Obama administration, and he’s already taken a whack at fuel efficiency.
Whether Colorado’s decision makes much of a difference nationally or globally won’t be decided as long as Trump occupies the White House. At least for the foreseeable future, it’s more a statement than a savior.
The ledger, advocates contend, has to be played against the value of the common good. The raise and call is a matter of life and death for Coloradans with breathing problems.
Zero-emissions vehicles may not be a checkered flag for Colorado air problems, but they move the state in that direction.