Ari Armstrong, Exclusives, Politics, Transportation, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Tighten controls on bureaucrats, not job creators

Did you hear the one about how the APCD stopped the AQCC from implementing the ETRP? If you have no idea what in the hell any of that means—and what normal person would—here is the ‘too long; didn’t read‘ version: At one point Colorado bureaucrats wanted to force metro employers to micromanage their employees’ commutes, and then, blessedly, they dropped that idiotic idea. But the bureaucrats might try again, as they are wont to do.

If you want the (excruciatingly) long version, check out Chase Woodruff’s September 21 report for the leftist Colorado Newsline. I’ll hit a few highlights here and interject my commentary.

An obviously bad idea

The ETRP is the proposed Employee Traffic Reduction Program. Here is how Woodruff describes it: “Modeled after similar ‘trip reduction’ initiatives launched in dozens of other U.S. states and cities, the ETRP program would have required businesses with more than 100 workers at one location in the Denver metro area to designate a ‘transportation coordinator’ and implement plans to reduce the number of employees commuting in single-occupant vehicles.”

The ETRP obviously is a bad idea if we think businesses should, you know, produce goods and services rather than serve as the enforcement agents of the Green Bureaucracy. If the state wants to incentivize people to burn less gasoline, the state plausibly should do that directly (we can debate this), as by increasing taxes on fossil fuels or subsidizing less-polluting forms of transport. But leave employers out of it, unless they want to voluntarily take on such matters. They have enough to handle within their shops or offices trying to serve their customers and meet payroll.

The ETRP also is flagrantly discriminatory. Why should businesses with 101 employees be forced to finance a “transportation coordinator” but not businesses with 100 employees? And, incidentally, do we really want to incentivize businesses to not hire their 101st person? I guess if you hire employee 101 you also have to hire employee 102 just to handle the extra bureaucratic burdens. Meanwhile, other sorts of high-traffic businesses, such as concert venues, don’t have to worry about this.

Anyway, isn’t the Green aim to shift us all over to solar-powered electric vehicles? (I think nuclear energy is a more feasible pathway to phasing out carbon fuels.) I’ll just point out here that two people driving their zero-emission cars produces no more marginal emissions than one person. You know, that whole “zero times anything is zero” rule. It almost seems like the ETRP builds a permanent bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake.

Hard-left reporting

The APCD is the Air Pollution Control Division, part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Here is Woodruff’s take on why the APCD declined to push through the ETRP: “[T]he APCD’s withdrawal of the ETRP program . . . [is] part of what former employees at the APCD and its parent agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, say is a culture of deference to regulated industries and resistance to public scrutiny of its operations and decision-making.”

This “people say” trick is how Woodruff inserts his editorial take into a superficially straight-news piece. Obviously this is what Woodruff himself believes, but “news” reporters can’t just pop off their own opinions in “news” articles. So they find people who happen to “say” just what the reporter believes. Convenient! I’m not saying there’s necessarily anything wrong with this—the practice is ubiquitous—but it is curious.

If you need any convincing that Woodruff is in the running for Colorado’s hardest-left news reporter, just follow his Twitter feed. Again, not that there’s anything wrong with that! He’s also probably Colorado’s best environmental reporter. Clearly he brings a passion to his work driven by his ideological commitments. He’s a dogged reporter. I’m just saying that we have to separate out the news reporting in Woodruff’s work from the overt environmentalist agenda.

Not government’s business

In Woodruff’s world, a central problem is that regulatory agencies are too deferential to the businesses they regulate. This is a well-studied problem among libertarian-leaning economists, who call it “regulatory capture.” But in this case the problem is that government just doesn’t have any proper business trying to force employers to micromanage their employees’ commutes. What Woodruff calls “a culture of deference” I call minding your own goddamn business.

The final acronym to unravel is the AQCC, the Air Quality Control Commission, which Woodruff describes as a “governor-appointed, volunteer” group. Basically, by Woodruff’s account, the APCD pressured the AQCC to drop the ETRP. I agree with Woodruff that the way that was handled was a mess. Woodruff attributes this largely to Big Bad Business; I attribute it mainly to the legislature not keeping these sprawling bureaucracies on a sufficiently tight leash. Government should be tightly focuses and totally transparent; in this case, it was neither. So we owe Woodruff thanks for delving deeply into these arcane matters.

In my book, the main problem is not that state bureaucrats dropped the transportation rule or the way they went about it, but that they ever felt they had the authority to pursue it in the first place. We need tighter controls on Colorado’s bureaucrats, not on Colorado’s wealth producers and job creators.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism.  He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.



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