- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Attention drivers. Effective with model year 2014, all new vehicles sold in Delaware must comply with draconian California emissions standards that are more stringent than even federal regulations. Delaware won’t be the last state where this happens.

The standards were imposed by Delaware Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Collin O’Mara, who unilaterally amended the state administrative code. These rules will bring “considerable benefits to human health and the environment,” asserts Mr. O’Mara, a self-proclaimed “energy entrepreneur” from California.

However, today’s cars already emit 95 percent less than their 1970 predecessors, so health and environmental improvements are likely to be minimal. Thus, an additional justification for the edict appears to be the notion that the new standards will prevent “dangerous” global warming. That is equally dubious.

What is certain is that Mr. O’Mara has arbitrarily raised the average cost of post-2013 vehicles sold in Delaware by at least $1,000. So says an April 2010 New York Times article. Industry experts say the regulations will add “$3,000 to the up-front cost of the average car or truck,” the Public Broadcasting Service notes.

To think all of this transpired without a whimper from Delaware’s elected officials or mention in its papers. Mr. O’Mara claims the notification and hearings took place. However, few Delaware residents know nightmarish California air-quality standards have been imposed on them, fewer still understand the edict’s costs and almost no one outside the First State realizes what might be on his own horizon.

California standards can hardly be justified even in the once-Golden State. They have their origin in Los Angeles’ infamous smog. But that smog occurred because car exhausts were trapped in the San Fernando Valley. Catalytic converters, not the new California emission standards, dramatically reduced smog.

California’s newest standards were justified on global-warming grounds; rammed through by an ecologically activist legislature, governor and air-quality-control board; and protected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the nation’s largest block of U.S. senators and congressmen.

But Delaware is not California - and its actions will be costly public relations but irrelevant to the global atmosphere.

Where were Delaware’s elected representatives and news media when this happened? Aren’t our legislators supposed to represent us? Isn’t the media supposed to report vital news and inform citizens of significant events? With average Delaware households earning just $58,000 annually, shouldn’t it be news when an unelected bureaucrat decides to increase the new-car purchase price by up to $3,000?

Perhaps it’s because the centerpiece of Gov. Jack Markell’s agenda is “green energy” and anything that makes electric vehicles more price-competitive must be supported, even if science and economics don’t justify it. With Fisker Automotive deciding to build electric cars in the state - supported by major subsidies from U.S. taxpayers - the need to keep the citizenry uninformed is even more compelling.

Whether Fisker ever will build a single car in Delaware is debatable. But the governor has just bet a large chunk of the state’s economy on this outcome. Thus the price increases for gas-powered vehicles.

The Nov. 2 elections, continued high unemployment numbers and a dozen states teetering on the brink of insolvency have changed the public’s thinking about “green energy” subsidies. But not the governor’s or Mr. O’Mara’s.

Mr. O’Mara’s home state ranks 49th out of all states on how its tax system treats business, according to the Tax Foundation. Its costly and dictatorial environmental regulations are legendary. With established businesses fleeing and entrepreneurs going elsewhere, California’s unemployment is stuck at 12.4 percent. Its legislative analyst says the state faces a $20-billion-per-year deficit for the next six years.

And California is to be the role model for Delaware?

At the very least, a thorough economic study must explore the effects of Mr. O’Mara’s edict - and its alleged environmental, health and climate-change benefits must be carefully assessed. These studies will almost certainly confirm that the regulations will kill jobs and family budgets for no health, environmental or economic gain.

We also need a real, public debate - not decisions behind closed doors, by unelected regulators, unreported by the media and without questions from legislators. Ditto for other states, our U.S. Congress and actions by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Perhaps transparency is an antiquated concept, unsuited to governance by regulation. But if so, we might as well get rid of the Delaware and U.S. constitutions because they no longer serve the purpose for which there were ratified.

After all, if elections and constitutions no longer matter, “We the People” can simply let “expert” regulators tell us how to behave, what to eat, how to think and what to drive - and accept a “benevolent totalitarianism.”

Then again, maybe people still believe rights come from God - and the government’s job is to protect inalienable rights from the dictates of unelected bureaucrats. Indeed, a recent Rasmussen survey says, most U.S. voters still say government’s primary purpose is protecting individual rights and freedoms.

But maybe those who hold those beliefs are simply to be disenfranchised now - by the benevolent dictatorial nanny class that always knows what’s best for us. The next few years will decide.

John Nichols is an investment adviser.

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