If Gov. Tim Walz has his way in forcing through a new mandate for zero-emissions vehicles, Minnesota consumers will have fewer choices and may incur higher costs. And Minnesota farmers? They may be hit hardest of all. In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, evidence shows that limiting consumer choice and forcing California’s proposals on our state would devastate Minnesota’s agriculture community.
It’s time for Gov. Walz to seriously reconsider following California’s failed policy before he does irreparable harm to Minnesota’s farmers.
Walz’s electric-vehicle proposal has certainly drawn attention. In August 2019, the Minnesota Department of Transportation recommended the state follow California’s lead in adopting California’s zero-emissions-vehicles rules. Just weeks ago, on Dec. 21, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officially proposed a rule to make the mandate law. It appeared a clear attempt to bypass the Republican-controlled state Senate in order to force through the mandate by administrative fiat.
If Walz’s ploy works, Minnesota vehicles would be forced to meet standards set by the California Air Resource Board, a body with no accountability to Minnesota voters. Auto dealers would be required to stock a predetermined number of electric vehicles, whether Minnesota car buyers want them or not.
Imposing California rules here could mean that Minnesotans lose their ability to choose what vehicles they want to buy by 2035, a move that would hit rural Minnesota, particularly its farmers, square in the gut. A recent Agricultural Retailers Association study showed that U.S. net farm income would decrease up to $27 billion if California’s combustion-powered vehicles ban is copied elsewhere.
Walz’s apparent attempt to circumvent lawmakers has drawn more than just attention. It’s also drawn the ire of prominent Minnesota voices. The Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association filed a lawsuit against the rule on the grounds that it cedes authority to California’s rules. As association President Scott Lambert explained, instead of working to “pursue homegrown initiatives,” the Walz administration has “chosen to move forward with a plan that abdicates control to California and is harmful to Minnesota consumers and Main Street businesses across the state.”
This feeling was echoed by state Sen. Bruce Anderson of Buffalo, who argued that “one size does not fit all when it comes to policy” and that California and Minnesota vary widely when it comes to environmental needs. California has much higher pollution emissions, Anderson pointed out, while Minnesota has already started moving in the right direction on cleaner and more efficient cars.
The pushback against Walz’s plan has already started to become a heated political issue that could affect elections. DFLers control the House by a 75-59 margin while Republicans hold the state Senate by a narrow 35-32 advantage. With many rural Minnesotans already feeling disconnected and left behind in other key areas like high-speed internet connectivity and health care access, an electric-vehicle mandate would only further create the impression that statewide leaders like Walz simply aren’t listening.
Unfortunately, the potential consequences for our state’s farmers are very real. The research by the Agricultural Retailers Association shows that if this leads to a California-style ban on gas-powered cars it would disproportionately hurt the American biofuels and agriculture sectors. Projections show that corn consumption would fall by up to 2 billion bushels while soybean consumption would decrease by up to 470 million bushels. Likewise, the research shows that we are expected to see corn prices cut in half while soybean prices fall up to 44%. That would be a serious body blow for farming.
With stakes this high, Minnesota can’t afford to simply walk in lockstep with California. It also can’t afford to allow Walz to dictate emissions policy without the input of state lawmakers. The Legislature, which represents communities across the state, including farming communities, should be allowed to debate this policy and openly share the concerns of farmers and others. Walz’s end-around might be politically clever, but it’s not in keeping with the spirit of democracy and public input, upon which Minnesota’s democratic process is built. We deserve transparency.
California has a history of acting like its own nation-state. That doesn’t mean we in Minnesota have to follow down a path to disaster. As Minnesota auto dealer professionals Chet Lockwood and Kyle McKinziein wrote in an Oct. 10 commentary in the Marshall Independent, we would be surrendering the state’s auto future to an “unelected body in a state 2,000 miles away.”
That wouldn't be good for Minnesota. The governor can reconsider this bad proposal before it wreaks havoc on our state’s farmers.
Karolyn Zurn of Calloway, Minnesota, is a farmer and past president of Minnesota Agri-Women. She wrote this for the News Tribune.