A Washington state lawmaker admitted Monday that “it was over the top” when he wrote in an email that bicyclists pollute the air when they ride. Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, wrote the email to Tacoma bike shop owner Dale Carlson, who voiced concern about a proposed $25 fee on bicycle purchases of over $500.
In his initial email to House Transportation Committee members, Carlson listed several reasons why he opposed the fee, including “bicyclists produce fewer emissions and reduce healthcare costs through increased physical fitness.”
Carlson said he was just trying to make a point and didn’t expect to get a reply. But he got one from Orcutt, the ranking member on the committee.
“Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride,” Orcutt wrote to Carlson.
That line raised some eyebrows among the Northwest biking community. Read Carlson's and Orcutt's emails.
Orcutt responded Monday to the controversy.
“It was over the top and I admit is not one which should enter into the conversation regarding bicycles,” wrote Orcutt. “Although I have always recognized that bicycling emits less carbon than cars, I see I did a poor job of indicating that within my e-mail. My point was that by not driving a car, a cyclist was not necessarily having a zero-carbon footprint. In looking back, it was not a point worthy of even mentioning so, again, I apologize – both for bringing it up and for the wording of the e-mail.”
The $25 bike fee in question was announced by House Democrats two weeks ago as part of an overall package that would raise a reported $9.8 billion over the next decade. Orcutt said Monday he doesn’t support much of what he sees in the Democrat plan, but does find merit in the $25 fee.
“I am willing to consider this because I’ve heard requests from members of the bicycle community that they want more money for bicycle infrastructure. The idea of bicyclists paying for some of the infrastructure they are using is one which merits consideration,” wrote Orcutt.
“Since I have heard concerns about doing this via sales tax due to the impact on bicycle shops, I am very willing to work with the bicycle community to determine an appropriate way to enable bicyclists to pay for some of the bicycle-only lanes and overpasses," he added.
Carlson said he appreciated Orcutt's subsequent apology, but said the lawmaker's views "still seems way out there.”
"Cycling has so many positive attributes to society," Carlson said. "It should be encouraged and not discouraged.”
Dr. Lonnie Thompson, a climatologist and glaciologist at The Ohio State University, called Orcutt's line of reasoning "crazy.”
"We have to breathe whether we're riding a bike or not," said Thompson, who added that burning through a 12-gallon tank of gas releases 314 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.
A 2011 study by the European Cycling Federation found that bicycle riding is not emission-free, but is more than 10 times less polluting than driving a car. That study took into account the manufacture of the raw materials of a bicycle and the increased food consumption that fuels the physical activity, but did not factor in increased rates of respiration.