Colorado editorials: The market needs to correct fuel standards |

Colorado editorials: The market needs to correct fuel standards

The Environmental Protection Agency, under its embattled administrator Scott Pruitt, announced last week that it will roll back Obama-era emissions standards for cars and light trucks. Those vehicles will no longer be required to average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

That is a double loss for Americans who want to use less fuel, save money and cause less pollution. The move is a nod to the Trump base, to the petroleum industry and to automakers who feared that the costs of such improvements might slow sales of new vehicles.

One reason such a change is possible is that gas is still fairly cheap. After the 1973 energy crisis, manufacturers responded quickly to the need for fuel economy by making vehicles that were, for the most part, smaller, less peppy and arguably less safe because of weight savings. Now that fuel prices seem to have stabilized, demand for efficient cars has stalled.

That demand does exist, though, and many consumers might buy more fuel-efficient cars if fuel savings were available in the models they like to drive. Right now, that’s often not the case, and Pruitt has now pushed such availability further into the future.

The president has loudly espoused the easing of federal regulations that he and his supporters believe hamper the economy, but good reasons exist for the higher standards.

Along with the easing of mileage standards comes an increase in emissions. Simply put, more fuel equals more pollution. According to the EPA in 2015, the transportation sector was responsible for 27 percent of U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. That’s a problem.

California, with a high number of drivers in coastal cities, is threatening to sue the EPA for the right to continue requiring stricter emissions standards for vehicles there. Approximately 35 percent of the nation’s new auto sales are in California and states that follow its standards. Smog is less noticeable in rural areas, but vehicular emissions are still harmful.

The world’s oil reserves, however large, are finite, and conservation, while potentially reducing the income of petroleum producers over the short term, also lengthens the availability of domestic resources. That’s a complex equation that deserves careful consideration, because need for imported oil is a national security issue in the case of a trade war or a shooting war, neither of which seems unlikely right now.

And whether they’ll trade cars just to achieve it, consumers do appreciate fuel savings. Long after the purchase price has been negotiated, every trip to the gas station is a reminder of the true cost of owning a vehicle, especially in rural areas where residents travel long distances. At some fuel price point, demand for fuel-efficient cars will skyrocket and the market for gas-guzzlers will shrivel.

Not everyone wants to drive a Prius, although there are a lot on the road. But innovation is part of the American character, and over time, with some incentives, auto manufacturers will design vehicles that get better mileage while being comfortable, safe and fun to drive.

It is disappointing, although not surprising, that the Trump administration has taken such a short-sighted view. Drivers, however, can vote with their wallets — for cars that are good for drivers and the environment. The market still can accomplish what the EPA will not.

The Durango Herald, April 11

Failing at free speech

Here’s a disturbing wakeup call: Colorado gets a big fat “F” for free speech.

Our recent “F” grade comes from the Institute for Free Speech, which defends individuals from establishment attacks on their liberties. It deemed the state’s campaign finance laws so top-down and authoritarian our 12 percent score put us above only Alaska, West Virginia and Kentucky. Five states score 100 percent; an additional six have “A” grades, scoring 94 percent or higher.

“The Supreme Court has long recognized that political speech strikes at the core of the First Amendment, yet today the court gives less protection to that core political speech than it does to topless dancing, flag burning or tobacco advertisements,” wrote law professor and author Bradley A. Smith, a Harvard Law School graduate and accomplished lawyer who chairs the institute.

Colorado’s oppressive tangle of campaign finance regulations strikes fear among those interested in funding, organizing or otherwise participating in the process. Doing so can lead to kangaroo court battles and fines most working people cannot afford.

The regulations are so convoluted the secretary of state’s “Colorado Campaign and Political Finance Manual” spends 146 pages trying to simplify them for the public.

As explained in Reason magazine last year, a discredited and failed former political candidate describes Colorado campaign rules as his tool for waging “political guerrilla legal warfare” against opponents.

He tried to extort $10,000 from the Colorado Republican Party, promising to drop a petty campaign finance case in return.

The complaintant brought a case against the El Paso County Republican Party and sought more than $30,000 in fines because of five technical errors found among more than 50,000 cells in a spreadsheet of contributions. One mistake involved leaving the “occupation” field blank after identifying a donor’s employer as the Monument Police Department. Other errors involved even less significant details, making the party’s error percentage less than 0.01 percent.

Seldom do Colorado campaign finance fines involve allegations of substantive and nefarious efforts to hide or misrepresent large contributions. They typically involve small money clerical errors resolved in other states with polite phone calls.

The latest abuse of our courts and campaign laws involved unfounded complaints against Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, who briefly became the subject of a grand jury investigation. The amateur litigator claimed Williams failed to collect a fine against Alliance for a Safe and Independent Woodmen Hills Political Committee, which wasn’t remotely true. As Williams documented, he tried to collect but the group was disbanded and broke.

Most grassroots political participants don’t have the expertise and resources of Williams, and simply get bullied and fined out of supporting causes or candidates.

The Supreme Court says the First Amendment protects campaign contributions by unions, corporations and individuals, but Colorado law treats them as veritable crimes if someone forgets to dot an “i” or cross a “t.” In doing so, it paves the way for bullies to undermine conventional political process and abuse the courts for expedient gain.

Let’s fix Colorado’s broken campaign laws. In doing so, we will restore free speech to hard-working individuals who lack time and money to defend themselves against “political guerrilla legal warfare” waged to infringe on their right to participate in the democratic process.

The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, April 6

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