On September 25, 2019 Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced “Clean Cars Minnesota”—a new package of vehicle emissions standards that will reduce transportation pollution and improve the options that Minnesotans have for purchasing zero and low-emission vehicles.
This is a critical step forward for Minnesota’s efforts to reduce dangerous climate pollution and secure cleaner air and water throughout our state. According to a report earlier this year by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the transportation sector is now Minnesota’s single largest source of pollution that contributes to climate change. Addressing this unchecked climate pollution is a critical first step toward meeting Minnesota’s climate change-causing pollution reduction goals, which—as a recent Rochester Post Bulletin editorial noted—Minnesota has consistently failed to meet.
States like Minnesota have the authority under the Clean Air Act to adopt standards that are stricter than Federal emissions standards. Governor Walz’s announcement will make Minnesota the 15th state to adopt such standards. New Mexico also recently announced their own clean car standards soon to be developed, and Colorado completed rulemaking to finalize clean car standards earlier this year.
Minnesota’s public rulemaking process is now underway. Finalizing the rule will take some time—likely well over a year, followed by a mandatory implementation time of two model years—to complete, with the goal of having the state’s new standards fully in place no later than the 2024 model year. The first step in this process is the “Request for Comment” (RFC). During this initial phase, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will consider comments from organizations and the public in advance of preparing a draft rule. All Minnesotans are welcome to submit written comments and are also invited to attend any of six public meetings that will be held around the state this fall.
While national polling shows broad public support for state clean car standards—67 percent in a recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll—the process of actual adoption is likely to be challenged by oil industry opponents. Colorado’s rulemaking experience is indicative of what Minnesotans are likely to see and hear in the coming months. Colorado has long faced serious air quality challenges. As DeSmog notes:
“Air quality in the Front Range—where more than 60 percent of Colorado residents live—has been so bad that it has violated national clean air standards for the last seven years. In 2018 alone, “there were 55 days when Coloradans were warned that exercise outdoors could be damaging to their health due to high ozone levels,” according to Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). That’s an average of one day per week where the air in this Rocky Mountain state’s most populated counties is so bad, it’s too dangerous to go out for a jog.”
Of course, even this dire situation didn’t stop oil industry interest groups from doing everything in their power to block Colorado’s clean car standards. In response to Colorado Governor Jared Polis’s announcement of Colorado’s zero-emission vehicle standard earlier this year, oil industry groups and their allies formed “Freedom to Drive”, an advocacy group that has spent most of 2019 spreading misinformation about the impact of Colorado’s new standards (not to be confused with a Minnesota-based coalition of the same name that advocates on immigrant rights issues).
Fortunately, Colorado stayed the course and cleaner air is coming soon to the Rockies. Here in the Midwest, Minnesota will be the first state to adopt clean car standards. Minnesota has its own challenges with transportation pollution. In addition to transportation now leading all other sectors in climate pollution, motor vehicles also contribute more than half of all carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon pollution statewide according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Over the coming months, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will be conducting a public rulemaking process to formally adopt the Clean Cars Minnesota standards. It is nearly certain that interest groups in opposition to these standards will be ramping up swiftly. Minnesotans who want clean air, clean water, and progress on climate will need to make their voices heard. As always, Fresh Energy and the Coalition for Clean Transportation will be ready with real facts backed by sound science—and we look forward to supporting completion of the Clean Cars Minnesota package as quickly as possible.
Justin Fay is the the Government Affairs Director at Fresh Energy