Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

If you are like me, you started your Thursday in the usual way, appearing at a press conference in a city park, alongside a city council member and a couple of smart science-type folks. It gets old, am I right?

Ok, that’s not how we start most days. In fact, this was the first press conference I’ve had on a Thursday morning, sheesh! (Is there anyone else left who says “sheesh” or am I the last guy standing?) (Ed: only you).

My background as a career military officer, studying climate change and other environmental factors as they relate to national security, along with being a senior research fellow for a couple of DC-based think tanks, made the nice folks running the show — Cleaner Cars : Cleaner Air — think I might be useful.

The purpose of the event was to draw attention to a pretty terrible thing the Trump EPA is trying to do — roll back clean air standards for cars. Usually, when Mr. Trump wants to take a policy step, he shouts it to the hilltops (or more likely Twitter), but I’m guessing you’ve seen nothing about this rollback in your news stream. 

It seems that back in 2012, the EPA implemented a strong federal fuel economy policy, along with measure to curb emissions of the stuff that is driving climate change. And, surprise, it actually worked! Just as requiring catalytic converters greatly reduced emissions — it would take roughly two dozen cars with catalytic converters to make as much pollution as a single “old” car without — the clean car standards made us better off in a number of ways.

If the stricter standards are left in place, we in Colorado would continue to benefit in the most obvious way, breathing, but you would also see more money in your pocketbook. The Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that the higher standard has saved Colorado just over a half billion dollars. That’s a savings of roughly $2,700 per Colorado household. These measures save enough gasoline to fill over 8,000 Olympic swimming pools, but I really hope they don’t, because I think swimming in gas would be, well, dangerous. Oh, and the higher standards help create jobs as well.

It seems that EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration leaders are without fanfare lowering standards under the guise of reducing regulation. Now, I will be the first to say it is absolutely possible to over-regulate. Back in high school, I worked at a fast-food place where the health department rules said we could not have a floor mat in our walk-in cooler, but the OSHA said we had to have one, because, as you know, pickle juice is really slippery. What’s a company to do?

Deregulation isn’t inherently bad, but we need to be smart about what we do regulate, and to what level. Deregulation should be done with a scalpel not a chainsaw. I know you, kind reader, likely support the government testing and regulating medications for babies, rather than just letting a drug company claim that a new baby cough syrup is safe. And you likely agree that the government should not be in the business of, say, telling you whom you may date or what flavor of cake is the most American (it’s chocolate). But smart regulations are, well, smart!

I proffer that the proposed roll back of car standards is bad for our nation and bad for Colorado, along all the dimensions mentioned above and more. And it’s a shame that the national press is more obsessed with the latest Trump tweet, when it could be doing a much better job of informing Americans about important governmental actions, such as the aforementioned rollback. 

Colorado is on of 13 states (plus DC) to have already imposed higher standards on car emissions, and that’s a good thing for us. The big car companies count their profits in billions of dollars per quarter. For example, GM reported third quarter 2018 profit at $2.5 billion. I suspect the car makers groused about having to spend money to install seat belts in cars back in the day, and in any case, do we decide public health issues on the basis of corporate profits?

Those of us on the Front Range have likely all had the experience of cresting the last hill before we arrive in Denver or Colorado Springs, and sometimes seeing a brown cloud of pollution trapped over the city by uncooperative weather. I also am pretty sure that all of us in Colorado prefer our skies blue, our water clear, and our children’s lungs free of excessive levels of car pollution. I urge you to urge your elected reps to keep an eye on the EPA and the NHTSA, and to oppose the rollbacks. It’s not too late to promote jobs and a better environment.

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

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