Increasing the fuel efficiency of our vehicles and reducing overall transportation emissions would provide many environmental, societal, and financial benefits. That’s why Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed clean-cars standards make so much sense for Minnesota (“Minnesota to follow California auto standards,” Sept. 26).
The transportation sector became Minnesota’s largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2016, according to the state PCA. Combine this with the social cost, and it’s clear we face a statewide problem with transportation emissions. Action is needed to reduce emissions from this sector as we drive toward a more efficient, clean, and ethical transportation system.
The climate crisis is global, and every part of the world is morally obligated to be part of the solution. By no means does that diminish the reality that the effects of climate change are already happening to us in Minnesota. Crop-killing droughts, dangerous heat waves, and intense flooding all have become more common here as a result of greenhouse-gas emissions. Environmental and economic consequences already are being experienced.
Emissions from electric vehicles are lower than from gas-powered vehicles nationwide. A recent study by the Great Plains Institute in Minneapolis showed that emissions from gas-powered vehicles are more than double the emissions from electric vehicles in the region encompassing Minnesota and surrounding areas. This will improve as Minnesota’s electricity mix becomes cleaner in coming years. It’s clear that transportation electrification is an effective decarbonization strategy.
Low-emissions vehicles have lower fuel and maintenance costs. All consumers understand that driving a fuel-efficient vehicle will lower their gas spending. When gas is supplemented or replaced by electricity in vehicles, fuel savings improve due to fuel-price differences. Electric vehicles also have significantly fewer moving parts than gas-powered vehicles, leading to lower lifetime maintenance costs. Plenty of affordable, low-emission vehicle models are being produced, and Minnesotans deserve to have access to them on the free market.
Furthermore, as inefficient vehicles consume more oil from the Earth’s finite reserves, more expensive and intensive extraction techniques such as fracking increasingly are utilized. These methods result in environmental damages, including frequent earthquakes, wasteful natural-gas flaring, and polluting frac sand mining in Southeastern Minnesota.
Oil demand in Minnesota incentivizes fossil-fuel-transportation infrastructure, including dangerous oil trains and the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline. Pipelines inevitably leak and spill, destroying the environment nearby. The largest inland oil spill in U.S. history occurred in 1991 when Line 3 spilled 1.7 million gallons of oil into the Mississippi River watershed near Grand Rapids. More recently, the KXL pipeline leaked twice in as many years. Policies must ensure that Minnesota taxpayers don’t bear cleanup costs after such disasters.
Everyday gasoline consumption in our vehicles and the actions of fossil-fuel corporations have been linked to the epidemic of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls in the Upper Midwest, and worldwide. “Man camps” that arise everywhere that fossil fuels are extracted lead to gender-based violence in surrounding communities. A disproportionate amount of the victims is indigenous to the land being pillaged. This ethical issue must be considered in all decisions of consequence.
Policies are needed to decrease fossil-fuel consumption in Minnesota’s transportation sector and associated environmental, economic, and societal damages. Strengthening fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles in Minnesota is essential to accomplishing these goals.
Incentives for medium- and heavy-duty vehicle electrification are needed to accelerate the transition. The impact of public transit on reducing transportation-sector emissions cannot be overstated, and policies should enable more Minnesotans to take advantage of transit’s benefits.
Gov. Walz’s proposal to adopt “Clean Cars Minnesota” standards is essential. The standards would increase the supply of low-emission vehicles, especially electric vehicles. This would be an effective way of accomplishing all the goals described above while allowing Minnesotans to opt into being part of the solution.
A draft rule containing the clean-car standards will be published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, followed by many opportunities for public input. Public participation in this process will be critical to ensuring that the final “Clean Cars Minnesota” rule will lead to more climate-friendly transportation options and a better climate future for Minnesotans.
Daniel Tikk of St. Paul is a volunteer with the environmental advocacy organization MN350 (mn350.org).