The working class has been hit the hardest by the surge in car and car parts thefts in Colorado. Unfortunately, a bill designed to solve that problem will only hit them harder, and further empower an already-too-intrusive state agency.
One of the parts most in demand, which also feeds the theft of whole cars, is the catalytic converter. The converter is key to clean air, converting noxious exhaust gases like CO and nitric oxide to more benign ones like CO2 and water. Not only are they in short supply, the converter’s metals such as palladium, rhodium, and platinum are also valuable in their own right.
Senate Bill 22-009 would try to end the theft by choking off the demand. Among other things, it would add catalytic converters to the definition of “major component motor vehicle part.” That part makes sense. It means that they would be covered under existing law targeting chop shops. Trafficking in stolen goods should be targeted by the law, and if the bill increases penalties for stealing cars for converters, so much the better.
The problem is two of the other major provisions and how they would interact with each other.
After October 31, 2022, the bill would make it “unlawful to install, sell, offer for sale, or advertise any used, recycled, or salvaged catalytic converter unless the catalytic converter is an aftermarket catalytic converter that has been certified for installation and sale by the division.”
“The division” in question is Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC), which would be responsible for setting standards for those aftermarket converters.
Unfortunately, the AQCC has shown little sensitivity for the effects of its rulings on the average Coloradan’s pocketbook or lifestyle. It has adopted California’s draconian air quality standards. Only reluctantly did it drop a proposed rule requiring employers to dictate how their employees commute. Its recent rules on methane and other oil well emissions are the stictest in the country, at a time when Colorado is the fourth largest oil producing state, and gas prices are close to all-time highs.
There’s no reason to think that the AQCC will care much about the affordability or availability of catalytic converters to the average consumer. Instead, it will likely raise the requirements for them, invalidating millions of otherwise legal converters, and taking them off the market. This would end up raising the price of converters when they need to be replaced, both by constricting supply and by making the new converters more expensive in their own right.
We’ve watched this movie before with the Obama Administration’s Cash for Clunkers program, which deliberately destroyed many hundreds of thousands of used cars for not meeting certain new environmental standards. That program drove up the price of used cars in the short run, with minimal environmental benefit, and didn’t even help its intended beneficiaries, the auto industry.
Who will this bill hit the hardest? Largely the same people who are suffering most from the car crime wave in the first place. According to the Department of Public Safety’s Auto Theft Prevention Authority, the number of stolen vehicles is up 74 percent in two years, with the dollar value of those thefts having nearly doubled. Thefts from vehicles are up a little over 20 percent.
In Denver, the numbers are even more striking. According to the Denver Police Department, auto thefts have risen 135 percent in the last two years, with thefts from vehicles up 66 percent. In the last year along, thefts of parts from vehicles are up a whopping 75 percent. Many of the hardest-hit neighborhoods are those where the residents can least afford to replace either a car or a converter, places like Five Points, Montbello, West Colfax, and Virginia Village.
The reasons for this aren’t hard to pin down. Insurance companies link much of the increase to organized crime, with rings subsidizing the thieves’ drug habits. A recent report by Colorado’s Common Sense Institute linked the crime wave to lenient law enforcement by district attorneys, including a proliferation of $1 personal recognizance bonds. We can agree about the need to reform an unfair cash bail system, but right now, the average citizen is paying the price for this blinkered version of social justice.
Using a crime wave to implement an expensive environmental agenda may sound like a good idea to the progressives under the Gold Dome, but for the rest of us, it just adds insult to injury.
The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
Joshua Sharf is a Denver resident and senior fellow at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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