The State of Colorado recently passed HB 14-1326, the “Clean Trucks Bill,” catapulting itself into the group of cutting edge states that are on the forefront of the clean fuel issue. Recognizing that trucks represent a huge opportunity for emissions reductions by replacing diesel engine trucks with trucks reliant on clean fuels, the Clean Trucks Bill paves the way for improved air quality, reduction in greenhouse gases, promotion of domestic energy sources and ultimately, cost savings for industry and for consumers. The bill, which passed the Colorado Senate unamended from the version previously passed by the House, was sent to Governor Hickenlooper on May 12, 2014. The Governor is expected to sign the bill and pass it into law soon.
The Clean Trucks Bill employs several components to promote clean fuels. The bill recognizes that the expense of clean fuel trucks over their traditional fuel counterparts leaves clean fuel trucks at a competitive disadvantage, with clean fuel trucks costing between 25 and 75 percent more. As such, the bill expands the alternative fuel tax credit targeting trucks. While existing tax credits provided incentives for compressed natural gas and propane trucks, the bill broadens the category of eligible fuels by incorporating hydrogen and liquefied natural gas into the credit-eligible fuels. Electric or hybrid-electric vehicles greater than 8,500 pounds in gross vehicle weight ratio (GVWR) also become eligible for the tax credit. Additionally, the bill introduces tax credits for heavy duty trucks (greater than 26,000 GVWR) and expands tax credit eligibility to light and medium-duty trucks.
By promoting broader adoption of clean fuel trucks, eventually market development and economies of scale will cause clean fuel trucks to become more cost competitive. The bill provides an 8-year period to achieve those economies of scale, paring down the percentage of a clean fuel truck purchase or conversion that is eligible for the tax credit over that time period. However, the maximum amount of the credit remains constant over the life of the legislation; heavy-duty trucks are eligible for up to $20,000 in tax credits per income tax year, medium-duty trucks up to $15,000 per income tax year, and light-duty trucks up to $7,500 per income tax year.
But the Clean Trucks Bill didn’t stop at a package of clean fuel truck purchase or conversion tax credits. Aerodynamic technologies proven to improve fuel efficiency and clean fuel refrigerated trailers also gained eligibility for tax credits. (Previously, tax credits were only available for idling reduction technologies.) The importance of the inclusion of clean fuel trailers cannot be understated, as fleets prefer to use the same fuel for the truck as the trailer, and the tax credit provides an incentive for the purchase or conversion of the clean fuel trailer in companion with the clean fuel truck.
The Clean Trucks Bill also updates the sales tax exemption for low-emitting vehicles over 10,000 GVWR. Today, virtually every vehicle over 10,000 GVWR meets the eligibility requirements for the sales tax exemption. The Clean Trucks Bill limits that sales tax exemption to trucks meeting more stringent standards.
The final element of the Clean Trucks Bill eliminates the specific ownership tax penalty for purchasing a clean fuel truck. Because the specific ownership tax is based on the purchase price of a vehicle, clean fuel trucks with their higher purchase price stand at a disadvantage to traditional fuel trucks with a lower purchase price. The Clean Trucks Bill abrogates that penalty by reducing the price at which clean trucks are valued for purposes of the specific ownership tax to an amount comparable to traditional fuel vehicles. By equalizing the tax value of a clean fuel truck with a traditional fuel truck, local government recipients of specific ownership tax revenues are unaffected from a revenue standpoint.
The benefits of the Clean Trucks Bill are many. First, the bill stimulates Colorado’s economy by promoting trucks using clean fuels, of which Colorado is a major producer. The bill also supports reduced emissions and improved air quality by providing an incentive for cleaner fuel trucks. Finally, the bill encourages energy independence through the promotion of domestically-produced clean fuels like natural gas and propane, as well as hydrogen and liquefied natural gas. It’s not often legislation of this magnitude can be widely perceived as a win-win, but Colorado is on the eve of becoming one of few states to accomplish such a feat.