OLYMPIA, Wash. >> A Washington state lawmaker apologized today for asserting in an email last week that bicyclists pollute the air with their heavy breathing.
But while Republican Rep. Ed Orcutt of Kalama, the ranking minority member of the House Transportation Committee, said that his statement was "not a point worthy of even mentioning," he didn’t retract his claim that cyclists contribute to climate change with their "increased heart rate and respiration."
"What I was trying to say is bicyclists do have a lower footprint but not a zero footprint in relation to automobiles," Orcutt said. "I didn’t close that thought out very well. It was poorly worded."
Orcutt’s initial statement came in a response to an email sent to more than 30 state lawmakers from Dale Carlson, the owner of three South Sound-area bike stores. Carlson was upset about a proposal to create a $25 fee for all new bicycle purchases of $500 or more as part of a transportation revenue package.
Orcutt, a conservative who opposes most tax increases, told Carlson by email that cyclists should help pay for the upkeep and construction of roads.
In support of his view, he wrote that "the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider. Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride."
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.