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New vehicle emissions rule clears major hurdle

The Clean Cars Minnesota rule would apply to new cars sold in the state beginning with model year 2025. GOP lawmakers are still working to stop it or slow it down

ST PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz won a victory Friday in his push bring tougher vehicle emissions standards to this state, beginning with the 2025 model year.

An administrative law judge ruled the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's rulemaking process for the Clean Cars Minnesota standards complied with state law, and the new rules will reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution here.

Judge Jessica Palmer-Denig's ruling is a step in the Walz Administration's quest to become the 16th state to adopt California-style standards that go beyond what the federal government requires as a national rule.

"The MPCA established it has the statutory authority to adopt the proposed rules, it complied with all procedural requirements of law and rule, and that the proposed rules are needed and reasonable," Judge Palmer-Denig wrote in her opinion.

"Therefore, the Administrative Law Judge APPROVES the proposed rules and recommends they be adopted."

Her ruling is the culmination of public comment and hearing process that's been happening since 2019 when Gov. Walz first proposed the new rules. The MPCA now has 180 days to adopt the rules. The next step is submitting them to Walz for review.

Individual car buyers wouldn't be required to buy more fuel-efficient cars and trucks or make changes to their vehicles. But automakers would be forced to supply more of those vehicles to the Minnesota market to lower average tailpipe emissions statewide.

That could be accomplished by selling more low emission and zero emission electric vehicles here, and more fuel-efficient gas-burning vehicles. Many LEV and ZEV models are hard to find in Minnesota currently, according to advocates.

Reaction

"It's a huge win for Minnesotans. We're talking about lower costs, cleaner air and more selection of cars to pick from," Paul Austin, the executive director of Conservation Minnesota, told KARE.

"I think it's also a validation for Governor Walz and his move to reassert Minnesota as a climate leader."

Carolyn Berniger of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy pointed out that vehicle emissions are currently the largest producer of carbon pollution in the state.

"All Minnesotans will benefit from a more stable climate, reduced air pollution, and improved access to electric vehicles," Berniger said Friday in response to the judge's ruling.

"We thank the Walz Administration for advancing this policy and applaud the decision today to allow it to move forward."

The Minnesota Auto Dealers Association has opposed the idea from the start, arguing that this state can't be compared to California. The organization points to the fact the top-selling vehicles in Minnesota are pickup trucks, which are more affordable than many of the electric vehicles and hybrids currently available.

Scott Lambert, MADA's executive director, urged the Walz to hold off on implementing any new rules until President Biden makes a decision about national emissions standards.

"If the MPCA and Walz Administration were truly serious about getting more electric vehicles on the road, they would have proposed a budget that incents EV demand and invests in charging infrastructure since the higher upfront costs of EVs and 'range anxiety' are the two top barriers to consumer adoption," Lambert remarked Friday.

MPCA spokesperson Darin Broton told KARE the judge's ruling puts the state on track to join the 15 other states with cleaner car standards. 

"Minnesotans made it clear that they want more choice of cleaner vehicles and want to protect our climate," Broton said.

"As part of Minnesota’s economic recovery, we are also well-positioned to accelerate this transition through our own home-based innovative companies and facilities likes like Zeus, Rosenbauer, and Polaris that are developing electric vehicle technology and creating good-paying jobs while fighting climate change."

Legislative standoff

The Minnesota Legislature in 1967 granted the MPCA the power to set emissions standards in this state. But since 2019, when Walz proposed the Clean Car Minnesota rule, Republicans have argued these decisions should be handled by lawmakers.

Minnesota has the only divided legislature in the nation. Republicans control the Senate while Democrats control the House.  The Senate has proposed removing the MPCA's authority to set emissions standards, which would effectively end the Clean Car rules.

GOP Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria this week said the Senate wouldn't agree to a final version of the Environment and Natural Resources bill unless the MPCA drops the Clean Cars rulemaking process. On Friday he amended his ultimatum to say GOP senators won't support the bill unless Gov. Walz agrees to delay implementation until the 2027 model year.

Many GOP lawmakers believe the market should dictate which cars and trucks are sold here. They say they're concerned the new rules will harm auto dealers and consumers due to the pricing of those LEV and ZEV vehicles.

Ingebrigtsen is the Senate's lead in the conference committee that is currently negotiating a final bill that resolves the differences between the House and Senate versions.  If the Environment and Natural Resources bill doesn't pass, the budgets for the Dept. of Natural Resources and MPCA would be frozen in July.

The DNR runs Minnesota State Parks, which potentially would be closed in July if the impasse isn't broken by then.  Of course, those parks could close if the legislature can't pass a two-year budget by July 1.

The regular session ends May 17.  

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