April 15, 2024
Opinion: With collaboration, Colorado legislation taking aim at vehicle emissions could save money, improve health and make travel easier


It is a near universal truth — no one likes sitting in traffic. The frustration of a bumper-to-bumper logjam extends beyond a missed morning meeting or missing the first chairlift on a fresh powder day. Every idling gas-powered engine, every mile traveled at high speed or low, spews toxic pollution into the air we breathe, damaging our lungs, exacerbating our ozone problem and contributing to our warming climate. 

Colorado has taken important steps to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and buses, and yet, transportation continues to be a top source of dangerous air pollutants. Moreover, recent research conducted by the University of Colorado shows that the neighborhoods closest to highways and high concentration of vehicles are far more heavily impacted by nitrogen dioxide and fine particles than their suburban counterparts. 

For the sake of the children who suffer from increased asthma attacks, for parents who worry about the cost of medical bills and for every Coloradan who wants to be able to walk outside and take a deep breath without worrying about the damage they are doing to their lungs, we must recommit to solving this problem from all sides. 

I am proud to be co-sponsoring Senate Bill 165 which, among other measures designed to improve our air quality, will explore meaningful ways to reduce air pollution from the cars, trucks and buses that Coloradans have to rely on to go about their daily lives and business. The bill is scheduled to be heard March 20 before the Senate Transportation and Energy committee.

Let me be clear though: This isn’t a mandate for Coloradans on how they do or do not use the vehicles that they already own. 

Specifically, the bill would clarify that motor vehicle emissions allowed under the state’s ozone plan will decline in 2030 and 2035. The bill would also require the Colorado Department and Public Health and Environment in 2025 to report to the legislature on a program to further reduce vehicle emissions in the Denver Metro/North Front Range ozone nonattainment area. It is about making Coloradans’ lives easier while also reducing air pollution, which is significantly contributing to the deadly and extremely expensive double-edged sword of our climate and air quality crises.

This is an opportunity for collaboration, creativity and even cost reduction. We are working on policy solutions so that folks, especially those who live along the Front Range and the Interstate 25 corridor where ozone is the worst, don’t have to use only their cars to get around. From ensuring that affordable housing options are available closer to public transit and to the places where people work and do business, to ensuring that the state is maximizing opportunities for federal funding to support new rail, reducing vehicle pollution is an added benefit to policies that Coloradans across the political spectrum have supported for years. 

Did I mention cost savings? The Colorado Department of Transportation did a cost-benefit analysis in 2021 to estimate the savings potential of a 10% reduction in household driving and the total savings would be $40 billion by 2050. Other research shows that economic damages from ozone pollution in Colorado are estimated to total $480 million to $1 billion in 2025. If we can save people money, improve their health and make getting around the Denver metro easier, shouldn’t we be exploring creative policies and solutions that do just that?  

Don’t let tough talk or fear-mongering from corporate interests (or anyone else) fool you. The values that we share — making our state affordable for everyone, strengthening our economy, ensuring our kids have the opportunity to be healthy and safe, and keeping bluebird skies a quintessential part of life in Colorado — are the values at the heart of this policy. We can make sure those values are around for generations to come if we take bold steps, like this one, together.

State Sen. Kevin Priola is a Democrat who lives in Henderson and represents District 13, which covers Adams and Weld counties. He is vice chair of the Transportation and Energy committee.

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