An Orwellian Definition of “Democracy in Action”

By Senator John B. Cooke

On August 31, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s departing head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Larry Wolk, authored a guest commentary in the Denver Post denying there has been a “bait-and-switch” by the Air Quality Control Commission in advancing the adoption of California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) standards.

The exiting regulator made the outlandish claim the commission was merely demonstrating “democracy in action.”

That explanation of the change in direction on new vehicle emissions rules is disingenuous to the point of dishonesty. Hickenlooper’s appointee is saying, hey, no one can accuse the Governor of a bait-and-switch because the commission is an independent entity and not legally bound by the words or parameters of the Governor’s executive order.

How’s that for doubletalk? That argument and three dollars might buy you a Starbucks coffee, but it does not demonstrate “democracy in action.” The commission’s action should be an embarrassment to anyone who advocates accountability and transparency.

“Democracy in action,” you say? By whose definition? George Orwell?

* The commission on August 3 released a draft of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which explicitly limited the scope of the planned rulemaking to California’s Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards.

* The 12-page published announcement for the August 16 meeting specifically ruled out consideration of ZEV standards. ZEV standards were nowhere mentioned in the announcement – except for an explicit disclaimer that ZEV standards would NOT be discussed.

* For that reason, trusting that the commission’s agenda was limited to consideration of LEV standards, opponents of ZEV standards had no reason to attend the meeting or plan a public demonstration of opposition to ZEV standards.

That a “majority” of the advocacy groups attending the meeting requested action on ZEV standards is irrelevant if there was no public notice that the subject would be debated or acted upon. By the same logic, mob rule is also “democracy in action” since the vast majority of participants support the action enthusiastically.

It is the height of bureaucratic hubris for agency administrators to cite the statements of few dozen stakeholders as the justification for the decision to order CDPHE staff to prepare a new rulemaking adding California’s ZEV emission standards to the commission’s 2019 agenda.

* By its action, the “autonomous” rulemaking agency is asserting that because a few dozen advocates for California’s ZEV emissions standards spoke out on a subject that was not on the published agenda, other Colorado citizens can be completely ignored.

* According to this Hickenlooper version of democracy-in-action, the owners of over five million Colorado passenger vehicles, over 200,000 Coloradans who purchase new vehicles annually, and a few million Colorado taxpayers who will be required to subsidize the purchase of ZEV-compliant vehicles – all have no choice but to accept this abrupt, unannounced change in the direction announced in the Governor’s June 18 executive order.

Yes, the Governor’s commission has the “plenary authority” to add any subject to its meeting agenda at any time for any reason. But to claim it is doing so in response to an overwhelming public demand is breathtaking in its dishonesty.

This is not democracy in action; it is hubris on parade. Shall we all salute?

Cooke serves senate District 13 in the General Assembly and chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. Cooke published an earlier piece on this topic in The Denver Post.

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