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Legislators disagree with proposed vehicle mandate

Two southern Minnesota legislators are increasingly agitated about how new vehicle emissions regulations will likely be implemented in the state.

Peggy Bennett

To Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, and Sen. Gene Dornink, R-Hayfield, Minnesota is just too different from California to borrow that state’s environmental work.

They worry about lost business for border businesses and increased prices for consumers.

“If the Walz administration moves forward with the adoption of the California Cars Mandate as expected,” Bennett said in a release, “it will be yet another example of one-person rule in the State of Minnesota.”

However, officials with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency say the changes are being adopted in a business-as-usual approach, and the state’s leadership on the issue will make it a car-buying destination in the Midwest.

“The MPCA … regularly uses this rulemaking authority to adopt standards for air, land and water as part of normal operations,” said Mary Robinson, MPCA information officer, in response to a set of emailed questions from the Tribune. “Giving consumers more choices is one of the primary reasons for implementing clean car standards.”

Gene Dornink

The clean car standards, which could go into effect as soon as 2024, would apply to new light- and medium-duty vehicles sold in Minnesota. Two sets of regulations are on the docket: one continues the low-emission vehicle, or LEV, standard in place since 2012; the other would require manufacturers to offer a wider variety of electric vehicles that would meet a zero-emission, or ZEV, standard.

While some legislators are poo-pooing California’s role in the rules, 11 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted LEV and ZEV regulations. Environmental regulators in those states also see no need in reinventing the electric wheel.

Minnesota would be the first state in the Midwest to adopt the changes.

Illinois set a goal of 750,000 electronic vehicles in the state by 2031, and two other Minnesota neighbors joined the state in a lawsuit challenging roll backs of the federal standard. Iowa is not moving to address emissions.

Inside the border, Minnesota officials also point to the state’s failure in meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets. Transportation is the biggest source of pollution in Minnesota, and light- and medium-duty vehicles dirty more air than anything else in that group. By 2030, the state is aiming for 20% of all passenger vehicles to be electric.

As a result, those vehicles make up the most urgent and potentially rewarding target for change.

Walz proposed the changes in 2019, and work by the MPCA to gather feedback is now winding down.

Legislators heard from MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop on Jan. 20. Dornink, the senator from Hayfield, wasn’t moved at a meeting of the Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy and Legacy Committee.

“This just isn’t how things are done,” he said in a release following the meeting. “The Legislature is here to ensure the best decisions are made for our state. I think this is one case where we need to be consulted.”

The MPCA’s rulemaking authority was granted by the Legislature in 1967.

Following Walz’s proposal, the MPCA began holding handfuls of technical and public meetings around the state and online. The closest was in Mankato on Nov. 19, 2019.

MPCA officials, according to its “Statement of Reasonableness and Need,” met with electric vehicle manufacturers eight times (including six with representatives from Tesla). They also met another eight times with a lobbying firm that represents mainstream automotive manufacturers and pushes streamlined regulations and purchase incentives for electric vehicles.

MPCA also met with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce once and twice with the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association.

One more informational session is scheduled for Feb. 2; another was scheduled for Wednesday. No comment will be taken at that time.

Public hearings, when comments will be solicited and online due to the pandemic, are scheduled for Feb. 22 and 23.

State officials plan to close public comments on March 15, which should leave enough time for an administrative judge to make any adjustments by the end of the year. That would allow a two-year waiting period to kick in during 2022-23 and implementation in 2024.