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More than 1,000 Minnesotans weigh in on proposed clean car standards

Updated: January 11, 2020 07:16 PM

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is working on implementing clean car standards. Gov. Tim Walz directed the agency to begin the process in September.

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"If Washington won't lead on climate, Minnesota will,” Walz said in a news release. “That is why we are taking bold action to reduce carbon emissions in a way that increases car options, protects public health, creates jobs, and saves Minnesotans money at the pump."

The rule-making process is now underway, with a public comment period wrapping up in December. The MPCA said it’s received more than 1,000 comments.

“Transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in our state, so tackling climate change means tackling emissions,” said Amanda Jarrett Smith, the MPCA climate and energy policy coordinator.

Jarrett Smith said the agency is working on two standards. 

“One would adopt standards that would require reducing tailpipe pollution of both greenhouse gases and other harmful air pollutants from passenger vehicles,” she said.

That’s the Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV) standard.

“The second one is to adopt a standard that would require manufacturers to bring to Minnesota increasing numbers of electric vehicles and offer them for sale here,” said Jarrett Smith.

That’s the Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standard.

“The idea there is to make sure there are enough vehicles and models of electric vehicles for people who want to buy them, to access those,” she said.

According to the MPCA, there were 43 electric vehicle models available in January 2019, but only 19 of those were offered in Minnesota.

“We want to signal to the manufacturers this is a place they need to bring those vehicles and offer them for sale,” said Jarrett Smith.

The Minnesota Automobile Dealership Association (MADA) disagrees.

“The state has, we think, got this backwards,” said Scott Lambert, the MADA president. “We’ve advocated for several years for a more incentive-based system. We'd like to use the carrot to try to increase demand naturally.”

He also feels it’s unnecessary.

“We think we’ve got plenty of vehicles right now to satisfy demand. It’s just kind of matching people up to them,” said Lambert. “The governor’s proposal is just going way overboard.”

The proposed standards were developed by California, after the state received a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency. Under the federal Clean Air Act, states could adopt them.

More than a dozen states have already adopted one or both of the standards.

“California has a different demographic and a different consumer,” said Lambert. “Minnesota has an appetite for trucks — we lead the nation in truck sales.”

He said the weather and outdoor activities Minnesotans enjoy are both factors.

Lambert also worries manufacturing costs would go up, which could hurt local businesses.

“Minnesota is an exporter of vehicles. We sell to North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin,” he said. “People will drive a long distance to save 50 bucks on a vehicle. If you put an $800 difference on a vehicle, no one is driving to Minnesota to buy those again.”

As the state works through the rule-making process, there is uncertainty.

There is a legal battle underway over the California standards. The Trump administration announced in September the EPA will withdraw the waiver that allowed California to implement the stricter standards.

Minnesota is one of more than 20 states to file a lawsuit protesting the decision.

According to the Governor’s Office, the proposed Minnesota rule can’t be implemented if the waiver is revoked.

The MPCA said there will be more opportunities for public comment as the rule-making process moves forward. It’s expected to last until at least Dec. 2020.

If the MPCA adopts the standards before the end of the year, the agency said it will be enforced starting in 2023 for the model year 2024.

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