At the heart of the debate over Gov. John Hickenlooper’s recent executive order to adopt California vehicle emissions standards is a simple question: Who should decide what vehicles Coloradans will use in the future for work, recreation or basic transportation?
I think most Coloradans believe they should make those calls, based on the unique driving conditions and consumer preferences in Colorado. But Hickenlooper’s mandate hands these powers to the California Air Resources Board, a panel of unelected regulators that couldn’t care less about Colorado. Their actions could severely restrict the vehicle choices available to Colorado motorists, raise the purchase price of new vehicles (trucks especially) and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in additional subsidies and infrastructure spending, as the state pushes to meet arbitrary benchmarks that are neither realistic nor right for the state.
No one loves the environment more than Coloradans. And we’ve made significant progress improving ours in recent times without the need for such radical moves. Almost any new vehicle you buy today will be 99 percent cleaner than similar vehicles were a decade or two ago, thanks to huge technological strides made by the industry, and we’ve made real gains in improving our air and water by doing things “the Colorado way,” not by engaging in the sort of copy-cat regulating proposed here.
The dozen or so states that have adopted the California emissions model are all clustered on the West Coast or the Northeast. All are in control of big government liberals who enjoy regulating for regulation’s sake. None is in America’s heartland. Shouldn’t that provide the first clue to how out of the mainstream this proposal is?
Look past superficial similarities and Colorado and California have little in common — especially when it comes to consumer preferences. Seventy-two percent of Coloradans purchased pickup trucks and SUV vehicles in 2017, which make up three out of every four new vehicles sold in the state. Yet it’s this category of vehicle that these mandates will impact most, as government uses all the weapons in its regulatory arsenal to override consumer preferences and push the public into the smaller, lighter, less-versatile vehicles we don’t want.
Relatively few Coloradans buy electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles — they account for less than 2 percent of vehicles sold in Colorado. These buyers are likely to live in densely populated urban centers, where charging stations are readily available, and they tend to be more affluent than average Coloradans, which makes one wonder why taxpayers of lesser means are obligated to keep subsidizing or “incentivizing” the car preferences of a pampered minority.
We’ll never meet these arbitrary, pie-in-the-sky mandates without pouring untold millions into this wasteful kind of welfare for the wealthy. We’ll have to continue the $5,000 per vehicle tax credit the state currently offers. And massive new public “investments” in EV infrastructure inevitably will be required to the performance deficiencies that make this a niche car market.
By raising the price tag on new vehicles, Colorado consumers will be forced to hang on to older, higher-polluting cars and trucks longer. Ironically, this would be a step backward for Colorado’s air quality, which is disproportionately impacted by older, high-emitting vehicles. That’s just one way the “law of unintended consequences” will come back to haunt us if these ill-conceived mandates are finalized.
It’s telling that the term-limited Hickenlooper made this move in the waning months of his final term, when he’s no longer accountable to Colorado voters — and then specifically directed Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to take action before he leaves office. It appears Hickenlooper, who has made no secret of his national political ambitions, may be more interested in how his executive order is received by Democratic voters in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston than by drivers across Colorado.
This is a stunning surrender of authority and accountability, which will put California behind the steering wheel, dictating Colorado’s destiny, unless public opposition is heard loud and clear. Raise your objections now. Don’t wait until after the rules have been finalized to complain that you’ve been the victim of a regulatory hit-and-run.
Author: Guest Columnist Republican Senator Ray Scott, Assistant Majority Leader in the Colorado Senate.
First appeared here in The Greeley Tribune.