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DeGroote: Coloradans in for a rude awakening on California car mandates

Millions of Coloradans will be waking up one day soon to quite a shock.

They’ll wake to find the Colorado they know and love transformed, almost overnight, into a state that looks, feels and functions like Eastern California, not just figuratively but literally, as  “zero emissions vehicle” (ZEV) rules written by Californians for California quietly became the law of the land in Colorado.

That could be a reality by the end of this week, when the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission likely will rubber-stamp the Californication of Colorado emissions rules, after going through the motions of holding public hearings. And just like that, without any real debate, Coloradans will begin taking marching orders on future vehicle choices from the California Air Resources Board, in one of the most shocking surrenders of state regulatory power in U.S. history.

Coloradans can be forgiven if this comes as a surprise, given the scant attention the issue received. What with last fall’s dramatic elections and this spring’s crazy session at the Statehouse, political reporters have had a lot on their plates. California vehicle mandates weren’t on the ballot in Colorado. And the legislature wasn’t consulted, so there’s been no forum in which a meaningful public debate could take place.

This is all the handiwork of just two politicians, an outgoing governor (John Hickenlooper) and an incoming governor (Jared Polis), who have used (and arguably misused) their executive power to sell out Colorado’s sovereignty to another state.

Let’s start with the most obvious reason why California’s “clean car” sales quotas won’t work in Colorado, which is that they haven’t worked in California. Vehicle emissions have been steadily increasing in the Golden State despite years of costly and heavy-handed government interventions. All California has to show for all that expense and effort are indicators that the rate of emissions increase might be slowing. It’s a failure, in other words.

Didn’t proponents of this plan do enough due diligence to realize they were following a failed model? Apparently not. They either didn’t know or (worse) didn’t care. If California is doing it then Colorado should also do it seems to have been the monkey-see, money-do mindset at work behind this plan.

California’s mandates are doomed to fail in Colorado for another obvious reason. Despite a few surface similarities, “Colo” and “Cali” have vastly different car markets, consumer preferences, natural landscapes and driving conditions. Colder temperatures and steeper terrain create challenges for zero emissions vehicles. Folks who live in Colorado’s rugged environment, and whose recreational pursuits can take them off the beaten path, put a premium on practicality, reliability, versatility and range – things that politically-favored electric vehicles can’t always deliver. That’s why three-quarters of the new vehicles bought by Colorado consumers are the kind of vehicles these rules target and disfavor.

Adoption of California vehicle rules could cumulatively add between $1,500 and $3,000 to the cost of a new vehicle by 2025. Unnecessarily raising prices drives up the cost of basic transportation, which takes a greater toll on lower- and middle-income residents, and it actually could harm air quality by keeping more used vehicles on the road longer.

In its haste to rush these policies through, the state failed in its duty to thoroughly and objectively analyze potential future impacts, overselling purported benefits while ignoring many potential costs. The state’s analysis fails to quantify meaningful impacts of the regulation on auto dealers, refiners, auto mechanics and other valuable job providers. Farmers, ranchers and rural residents also will be hit especially hard, given that the cost of SUVs, pickups and other light trucks will almost certainly rise.

The state cherry-picked metrics to put a positive spin on future outcomes, but a comprehensive and holistic analysis commissioned by the Freedom to Drive Coalition indicates that cumulative costs will far outweigh benefits.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of all this, however, given the overwhelmingly negative impacts Coloradans will feel as a result of further “Californication,” is the undemocratic way this has been pushed forward, through executive action rubber-stamped by political appointees. Not only will this compel Colorado to match California’s increasingly-costly and extreme actions move for move, but there’s no democracy or accountability there either, since that power rests with another unelected group of climate czars called the California Air Resources Board.

Making a change this potentially costly and consequential isn’t something that should be done without the consent of the governed. That’s a principle pillar of our representative form of government. Yet the consent of the governed, meaning rank-and-file Coloradans, wasn’t sought or given in this case. And that’s a recipe for political backlash and possibly legal recourse, once Coloradans wake to the fact that this state isn’t theirs anymore, and that Californians will soon be telling them what kind of cars and trucks to drive.

Curtis DeGroote is Chairman of the Freedom to Drive Coalition.

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