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A Washington state lawmaker apologized Monday for telling a bike-shop owner that cyclists cause carbon pollution simply by breathing hard.

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, made the remark last week in an emailed reply to Dale Carlson, owner of BikeTech in Tacoma, Lakewood and Olympia. Carlson had messaged 30 lawmakers opposing a proposed $25 fee on new bicycles worth $500 or more.

Orcutt wrote that the bike fee was just about the only thing he likes in the $10 billion package proposed by Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, where Orcutt is the top-ranking GOP member.

He wrote:

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“Also, you claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike. But if I am not mistaken a cyclists [sic] has an increased heart rate and respiration. That means the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider. Since CO2 is deemed a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride.”

The comment — which recalls a remark by President Reagan that “trees cause more pollution than automobiles do” — caused a bit of a sensation. It was published over the weekend by Cascade Bicycle Club and made the rounds to news outlets and advocacy blogs around the country.

Orcutt said in an interview Monday night that he already knew bicycling uses only a fraction as much carbon as driving.

“I just didn’t close out the thought,” he said, after spending the day as a subject of derision.

Earlier Monday, to set the record straight, he issued an email:

“First of all, let me apologize for the carbon emissions line of an email which has caused so much concern within the bicycle community. It was over the top and I admit is not one which should enter into the conversation regarding bicycles. Although I have always recognized that bicycling emits less carbon than cars, I see I did a poor job of indicating that within my email.”

Orcutt, whose hometown has two miles of bike-pedestrian trail on the Columbia River, said he will look at alternatives to the $25 fee, to fund bike infrastructure.

He phoned BikeTech and asked, “If you don’t think this is fair, what is fair?” Carlson says he didn’t have a ready answer.

While enthusiasts might not blink when shopping for a $1,000 to $1,500 bike, Carlson said the fee could affect a middle-aged “couch potato” couple who decide to take up bicycling. “We have to convince them that $500 is a good investment over a Wal-Mart bike for $179,” he said.

The Democrats’ proposed $25 fee would raise only $1 million statewide over 10 years, a symbolic gesture in a $10 billion transportation package.

“It’s certainly gotten more attention per dollar than a lot of other things are,” Orcutt said.

On average, cars emit about three-quarters of a pound of carbon dioxide per mile, while bicycling releases just over 1 ounce per mile, including manufacturing, according to analysis by the European Cyclists Federation.

Bicycle gears are highly efficient, so food calories burned by a rider may well be equivalent to 650 miles per gallon, figures Todd Litman, of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or On Twitter mikelindblom

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