DULUTH — Yes, yes, we all need to do our part to counter climate change. But there’s a far more practical reason for Minnesotans to embrace the clean-car standard that right now is being considered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
It’s all about not being left behind.
Car manufacturers keep announcing plans to increase the development and production of electric vehicles, hybrids, and low-emission cars and trucks, including more four-wheel drive options and trucks and SUVs as powerful as ones that run on gas. And these new models will be made available for sale first in states that have adopted the clean-car standard.
So, if Minnesota joins 14 other states and the District of Columbia in adopting the standard, “you’ll have more choices” when car-buying, as Paul Austin, executive director of Conservation Minnesota said in an interview last week with the Duluth News Tribune Editorial Board. “You’ll still be able to buy what you want … (without being) stuck with just the gas guzzlers like now.”
A “draft rule” to adopt the standard in Minnesota was published at the end of December. A public comment period runs through March 15. Questions and comments can be left online through the Office of Administrative Hearings (mn.gov/oah/). All comments and questions will be sent to the administrative law judge, Judge Jessica Palmer-Denig. In addition, at 3 p.m. today and Tuesday, Feb. 22 and 23, the judge is holding virtual public hearings. Following a five-day rebuttal period, Palmer-Denig will have 30 days to rule whether the standard is right for Minnesota. A decision could come as soon as late April.
With approval, the standard could go into effect as soon as 2024.
The standard was originally crafted in California, which galls some Minnesotans. What’s right on the West Coast may not be right here. True enough, but under the law, the standard is Minnesota’s only alternative to federal rules. If California changes the standard in the years to come, Minnesota would go through this same rule-making public process with the courts as it is now. Any changes wouldn’t just automatically be applied here.
To clear up misperceptions: Minnesota’s elected Legislature authorized the MPCA to consider the standard through the rule-making process that’s now being followed. The standard applies to car manufacturers, not motorists. And it covers passenger vehicles alone, not semis, farm equipment, off-road vehicles, motorcycles, or snowmobiles.
Electric vehicles are far from a perfect option right now. Some, especially older models, are underpowered. Models comparable to popular-in-Minnesota pickups and SUVs are lacking, even if the manufacturers say they are in development. And many electric vehicles can travel only 100 or 250 miles before needing a recharge. So, not great for a road trip.
But only 5% of vehicle trips taken by Americans are longer than 30 miles, counters Jukka Kukkonen, a professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and an automotive engineer who advocates for electric vehicles through Shift2Electric. Charging happens 85% of the time at home, overnight, he said. And the range of electric vehicles is steadily improving while the number of charging stations is increasing, in line with President Joe Biden’s pledge of 500,000 new charging stations nationwide.
Each station generates economic activity for local communities, too, as travelers shop or eat while their cars rejuice, Kukkonen said in an interview ahead of his testimony last week before the Minnesota House.
Even with 5 million electric vehicles in Minnesota, vehicle emissions is the No. 1 source of climate-changing pollution in the state, according to Austin. The standard would reduce climate pollution by an estimated 2 million tons in the first 10 years.
“Minnesotans care about being good stewards of our lakes and lands and our air and water, and we want Minnesotans to have the same opportunities as others to benefit from electric vehicles for themselves and for our outdoors.”
In January, at a hearing of the Minnesota Senate Environment Policy and Finance committees, the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association argued its opposition to the standard. With the pandemic still raging, car sales on the decline as a result, and a new administration in D.C. that has talked about even more stringent vehicle emissions guidelines, “This is the wrong time for the state to interject more uncertainty into the marketplace,” the association’s Vice President of Public Affairs Amber Backhaus testified.
The concerns of car sellers and others can’t be discounted. They demand to be considered and addressed during the public-comment period over the next three weeks.
The judge can weigh them against the clean-car standard’s promise to reduce climate-changing emissions, a necessity. He also can consider that car makers already are shifting production to meet buyers’ greener demands and that other states and nations are taking action.
Minnesotans mustn’t be left behind.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, Duluth News Tribune.