On May 15, a commentary in the News Tribune by the president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association (“California way the wrong way for Minnesota”) suggested that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is abdicating control to California on how to address air pollution in our state. That’s simply not the case. By adopting clean-car standards, Minnesota would be joining the District of Columbia and 13 other states, including Colorado and Pennsylvania, in reaping the economic and public health benefits of new, clean technologies.
The commentary also suggested that Minnesotans do not have an appetite for electric vehicles, which also is untrue. A recent survey from Consumer Reports showed that 60% of prospective car buyers in the state are interested in electric vehicles, and 66% of those surveyed said they want to choose from more types of electric vehicles, such as SUVs and pickup trucks. Several manufacturers have announced the production of electric SUVs, pickups, and crossovers, which are unlikely to be available in Minnesota if the state does not adopt clean-car standards.
Buyers in states with clean-car standards have access to many more clean and electric vehicles to choose from in a range of sizes. The clean-car standards also would ensure the availability of a wide range of vehicles that would be increasingly fuel-efficient, saving fuel costs and reducing air pollution over time. That’s what clean-car standards would do in Minnesota: improve tailpipe emissions of new models each year (helping to improve Minnesota’s air quality and reduce fuel costs) and bring more electric-vehicle options to every part of the state (helping to expand consumer choice in the state).
It’s hard not to interpret this opposition to cleaner cars as a defense of an outdated business model. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, service fees accounted for half of the industry’s gross profits. Electric vehicles require significantly less maintenance than conventional vehicles. They have far fewer moving parts, don’t require oil changes or other maintenance associated with exhaust systems, have fewer fluids to change, and don’t see as much brake wear due to regenerative braking. A recent analysis demonstrated that 74% of dealerships aren’t selling electric vehicles or providing adequate information about electric vehicles, but there is greater availability of electric vehicles in clean-car states.
The cost and time-saving benefits of electric vehicles have attracted the attention of many of Minnesota’s large businesses, including Best Buy, Target, and 3M, all of which have installed electric-vehicle charging stations at some of their facilities. As more and more companies look to transition their fleets to electric vehicles, Minnesota should ensure it is ready to meet this rising demand. Strong clean-car standards would help to make that happen by establishing the policies necessary to create a robust market for electric vehicles and build out the necessary charging infrastructure.
Transitioning to electric vehicles also presents a major opportunity for companies to reduce their carbon footprint. Strong clean-car standards would not only help Minnesota businesses meet their sustainability goals, they would help the state tackle climate pollution and build on its history of environmental leadership.
The bipartisan Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, signed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, set lofty goals to reduce the state’s carbon emissions. Minnesota is not currently on track to meet those goals, and enacting clean-car standards would help Minnesota get there by tackling its biggest source of emissions.
The commentary from the president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association said “there’s nothing Minnesota about it,” but there is nothing more Minnesotan than doing the right thing and sticking to a bipartisan commitment made by our state. It is time to address air pollution, expand our vehicle choices, and bring clean-car innovation to Minnesota.
Carol Lee Rawn of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is an attorney and senior director of transportation for a sustainability nonprofit called Ceres (ceres.org). She has family roots in Duluth and wrote this for the News Tribune.