The decision by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to reject California's proposed tailpipe emissions standards may limit Minnesota's choices on dealing with global warming.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty's point person on climate change is Deputy Commerce Commissioner Edward Garvey. He says the EPA's refusal to give California a waiver -- which would have allowed the state to set its own rules -- means Minnesota cannot use the tailpipe emissions rules either.
"States can adopt a California fuel standard of any kind as long as they've been granted the waiver, but if California doesn't have it, no other state can do it," Garvey says.
For years, the EPA has routinely granted waivers to allow California to set more stringent pollution controls. And California has long been considered a laboratory for new ideas.
In Minnesota the governor and Legislature have set up a climate change advisory group to chart a course for the state to respond to global warming. The group has 50 options to consider; one of them is tailpipe controls similar to California's.
Scott Lambert represents the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association on the advisory group. He says the EPA decision makes sense, because pollution controls should be imposed at the federal level, and the California standards are too tough. "The industry just said flat-out, 'We're not going to make it; it takes us about six years from start to finish to develop new technology and new product, it's about a six-year process, and we can't get there, so the only way to achieve these standards is to pull big cars and big trucks off the showroom floors.'"
He says in Minnesota, more than half the vehicles sold are trucks.
"This is an economy based on farming, on tourism, on mining, on logging. It's not just people who decide they want a bigger car; it's a lot of people who need a bigger car."
He agrees with Edward Garvey that the EPA decision means Minnesota cannot consider the California standards.
Jim Erkel strongly disagrees. He says the EPA's decision was about politics and not global warming.
"I think it's a rather transparent and cynical political attempt to get around the growing movement among the states to deal with the transportation effects of global warming."
Erkel works for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and serves on a technical committee of the climate change advisory group. He says Minnesota should adopt the California standards.
He says they are actually more flexible than the new fuel efficiency standards in the federal energy bill and that the technology exists to enable Detroit to achieve the standards.
"Every time the industry comes in and says that it's going to cost thousands of dollars, their estimates tend to be about ten times more than it actually ends up costing the consumer in terms of the cost of a new car."
Another member of the advisory group, Jan Callison, the mayor of Minnetonka, says she's disappointed in the EPA decision. She says it will make the work of the advisory group that much harder.
"There's still not a clear answer, I understand from the news reports California will probably litigate, and there would have been litigation either way I think, but it clearly keeps the question open for awhile longer."
California's governor says he will appeal the EPA decision and many observers say California will win.
Gov. Pawlenty has taken a high-profile role on climate change. As chair of the National Governors Association, he is pushing an initiative called "Securing a Clean Energy Future."
The association Web site touts the role of states as laboratories for new ideas, saying "States are nimble enough to address policy challenges head on." But it doesn't specifically mention California's tailpipe standards.
Gov. Pawlenty did not return Minnesota Public Radio's request for reaction to the EPA decision on California's standards.