There’s no feeling more quintessential Coloradan than standing proudly on fatigued legs at the summit of one of this state’s mighty fourteeners, humming “Rocky Mountain High” to yourself while soaking in the immense beauty of a Colorado landscape.

While I was on top of Quandary Peak this summer, I didn’t see anything that made me think of “raining fire in the sky,” but I still related to a certain phrase from John Denver’s classic Colorado anthem; there was an abundance of “silver clouds below.”

Kirk Zieser

I’d like to attribute these wispy clouds to remnants of an early morning fog, but I doubt that’s the case. First, I’m not a fast-enough hiker to summit much before noon; second, what appears to be fog is often air pollution.

As a nineteen-year-old Colorado native, I hope the Centennial State is able to maintain its clean, outdoorsy reputation for generations to come, and I believe protecting our air quality should be a priority in reaching that goal.

The first step to any worthwhile solution is eliminating the source of the problem, and Colorado made a strong first step last month when the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) unanimously adopted California’s low-emission vehicle (LEV) standard.

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According to the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, our state’s vehicles produce about one-third of the greenhouse gases that infect our environment.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed rolling back federal fuel economy standards, an act that threatens to drive Colorado in reverse. The EPA failed to provide sufficient scientific explanation for its plan, and scant mention was given to the environmental repercussions of this action.

This reasoning suggests the current EPA values industry growth over human health and the well-being of ecosystems, a striking parallel to the political-industrial climate of the 1950s, when the pesticide DDT was dousing America’s countryside.

Twenty years from now, the exhaust belching from our automobiles may be looked upon as the DDT of a new generation — a manmade, self-inflicted poison that kills humans and nature indiscriminately.

Fortunately, rather than braking to the pace of the national government, the AQCC’s decision aligns with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s goal of maintaining “progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles sold in Colorado.”

Colorado is at a crossroads, and we just took a turn in the right direction. I applaud the AQCC’s decision and encourage Governor-elect Jared Polis to continue Hickenlooper’s forward-thinking policies.

With President Trump appointing former fossil-fuel industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to lead the EPA, it is unlikely the federal government will assume a leading role in environmental protection anytime soon. However, there are now more than a dozen states committed to meeting California’s LEV standard — and Colorado’s inclusion in that group cements our position as a state dedicated to preserving our natural resources.

Decades from now, I hope to be able to once again stand on top of Colorado’s “cathedral mountains” and, like John Denver, gaze in wondrous admiration upon a healthy, vibrant, and clean environment that stretches as far as I can see.

Kirk Zieser, a Centennial native, is studying at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. He is very excited to return to Colorado for winter break and enjoy all the fresh snow in the mountains. Kirk graduated from Arapahoe High School in 2018.

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @kirkzieser