A coalition of advocates promoting more energy efficient vehicles in Minnesota is gearing up for a statewide campaign to support motor vehicle emission regulations.
Minnesotans for Clean Cars hosted a Mankato-centric virtual panel Tuesday to discuss why the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s proposed Clean Car Minnesota rules would benefit the state, even as the proposal faces stiff resistance from Senate Republicans and automotive dealers.
Gov. Tim Walz announced the proposed emissions rules for low- and zero-emission vehicles last September based on similar rules in California. If the state adopts those rules, Minnesota would become the 15th state along with Washington, D.C. to require auto manufacturers to build and offer a certain amount of low-emission vehicles, such as hybrid or electric cars.
Yet the proposal faces challenges from Republican lawmakers who argue Walz should have left the decision to pursue new emissions guidelines to the Legislature rather than a state agency. The Minnesota Automotive Dealers Association also opposes the rules, arguing the proposal would drive up the cost of new cars and hinder out-of-state sales.
Yet supporters say cutting vehicle emissions is one of the most significant and cost-effective means to address ongoing climate change.
Sen. Nick Frentz | Minnesota State Senate
“It’s not hard to show people why it’s in the interest of the planet, but it’s tough to get people to do something that’s a long-term interest for a short-term cost,” Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said.
Frentz chairs the Senate DFL’s Clean Energy & Climate Change Caucus and has sponsored legislation related to the the govenor’s clean car standards proposal in the past. He said Minnesota could take an important role in promoting more environmentally sustainable practices as the world faces more issues due to our warming climate.
“The main message we’re sending to Minnesotans is it’s time to establish once and for all how much of a hurry we’re in,” Frentz said. “Clean cars is one of the things we have to do immediately.”
Advocates argue the standards would bear immediate savings for Minnesotans who decide to buy low emissions cars.
Jon Olseth, an English teacher at Riverland Community College and the director of the Olseth Family Foundation, said he saves more than $1,000 a year in gas costs driving his Chevy Bolt around Mankato — which he notes was designed by a Minnesota State University graduate.
He said residents who buy electric cars could end up spending far more money in their communities as a result of maintenance-related savings, which could realistically take place if auto dealers offered more electric cars.
“Clean Cars Minnesota helps get these cars in our community,” Olseth said. “It doesn’t force anybody to buy these cars, but it forces us to offer them.”
Advocates say more electric cars on the road means more in-state energy production and less reliance on foreign oil distribution. They also point out lower emissions would benefit public health, as a Minnesota Department of Health report last year found ground-level pollution was a factor in up to 4,000 deaths in Minnesota in 2013. And the rules would only affect new car sales, and only for smaller vehicles.
That means larger equipment, such as semis or rigs, wouldn’t be regulated by the standards. Neither would used car sales.
Critics of the Clean Cars Minnesota rules say offering more electric vehicles doesn’t guarantee people will buy them, which means more costs and supply for automotive businesses.
And while some GOP lawmakers such as Sen. Dave Senjem of Rochester support more stringent emissions, Republicans are wary of passing the emissions rules set in California. Federal guidelines have in essence set California’s emissions rules as the standard bearer, which means Minnesota and other states have to pass the same rules California sets concerning car emissions.
The MPCA plans to move forward with the Clean Cars Minnesota standards this fall, first by publishing an official notice of its intent to adopt the rules and then hosting public meetings on the standards before an administrative law judge.