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Minnesota to follow California standards for low-, zero-emission cars

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, announced that the state would pursue tougher standards for auto manufacturers, which would require them to offer more hybrid and electric vehicles in the state. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, Sept. 25, asked the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to write the rules requiring auto manufacturers that sell in the state to deliver more electric and hybrid vehicles. The move follows California's effort to set stricter emission standards for cars than the federal government.

Environmental advocacy groups, health, agriculture, business officials, Democratic lawmakers and local officials applauded the move Wednesday, while conservative groups and Republican state lawmakers said it would drive up the cost of larger vehicles.

The Trump administration earlier this month announced that it would roll back a decades-old waiver to the federal Clean Air Act that allowed California, the top-car-buying state in the country, to set higher emission standards for cars than the federal government. President Donald Trump said the move would make cars safer and less expensive, but officials at the Environmental Protection Agency said the decision could fuel an uptick in highway deaths.

Fourteen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted California's tougher standards on emissions. But Minnesota is the first state in the Midwest to adopt the rules.


And 23 states, including Minnesota, along with the District of Columbia and two cities have sued the federal government arguing states should have the right to set their own vehicle tailpipe emissions. It's unclear what impact the lawsuit could have on the state's new rules.

Walz classified the Trump administration's move to roll back California's waiver as a "backward-looking, reckless and illegal move."

“They’re artificially distorting the market by the president squashing these innovations that are out there,” Walz said. “For me, this is about how does Minnesota position itself as it always has been, as an innovative state, leading on some of the toughest problems."

Under the proposal, car manufacturers would be required to sell low-emission vehicles in Minnesota and to offer more electric vehicles. Limiting emissions from cars on Minnesota's roadways is critical to mitigating the effects of climate change, Walz said. More than 20% of the heat-trapping gases that spur warming temperatures and more extreme weather events in the U.S. stem from cars and low-duty trucks.

The announcement comes as part of Minnesota Climate Week , which Walz declared on Monday to raise awareness about the importance of acting to mitigate the effects of climate change. And it comes days after millions of youth demonstrators around the globe, including thousands in Minnesota, took to the streets to call for political action on climate change.

The standard is set to be rolled out in about 18-months following a set of public hearings put on by the MPCA. And it is estimated that the goal could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 2 million tons over the next decade.

Minnesotans won't see an impact right away, but beginning for vehicles in Model Year 2023 and beyond, the number of low-emission vehicle models available in the state could grow from 19 to 43, based on other states that have adopted the rules.


And the governor said those who disagree with the change will still be able to keep their cars or buy whatever car they want.

“If you need to buy a standard (Ford) F-150 because you need to work on the farm or you need to take your icehouse to the lake, nothing changes. All of those options are still available,” Walz said. "This says the fleet will reduce emissions."

But Republican lawmakers and auto dealer groups said the move would drive up the cost of higher-emitting vehicles in the state as manufacturers aim to offset the cost of the lower-emitting ones.

"These goals are unrealistic to be adopted or met by everyday Minnesotans," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said. "This is an emotional response to fear-mongering by the left. Like the federal Green New Deal, it might make you feel good, but it’s really expensive and unworkable for most people."

The Minnesota Auto Dealer Association said the state's top vehicle is the Chevy Silverado and 80% of Minnesota's annual vehicle sales are on trucks. The distinctions should make state officials think twice about replicating California's rules, the group's president said.

“Minnesota is not California,” said Minnesota Auto Dealer Association President Scott Lambert. "Our dealers support efforts to promote cleaner vehicles. Following the lead of the state with the worst air quality in the country is not the way to go.”

To prepare for an increased number of ultra-low or zero-emission vehicles on Minnesota's roadways, Walz said state transportation officials planned to invest in public charging stations as part of road construction and rest stop projects in coming years. And as more people opt for electric vehicles, the private sector likely will offer them to boost business at other facilities, he said.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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