Minnesota auto dealers sue to block state's 'clean cars' plan

A cover hides a charging for port for Tom Rayburn's Mitsubishi i-MiEV
A cover easily mistaken for a gas cap hides a charging port for a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, as seen in St. Paul.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2018

The Minnesota Auto Dealers Association has filed a lawsuit challenging the state's "clean cars" plan adopted late last year, which is intended to increase the number of electric vehicles for sale in Minnesota and reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The group has long opposed the new rules, which are modeled after California regulations. The dealers sued unsuccessfully to block them last year in federal court. They fear that Minnesota auto dealers will be burdened with an oversupply of electric vehicles that consumers don’t want and they won’t be able to sell.

In this challenge, filed at the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the auto dealers association argues that the rules violate state law by improperly delegating the state’s authority to the California Air Resources Board.

The group also argues that Minnesota doesn’t qualify to adopt the California rules under federal law.

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“Dealers are all in for the adoption of EVs and are making sizeable investments in their businesses to get ready for an expected increase in demand,” MADA president Scott Lambert said in a statement. “But they’re making plans based on consumer appetite, not what California dictates.”

The administration of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz proposed the rules in 2019 as a major plank in its broader approach to fight climate change. The transportation sector is now the state’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency argues that there’s strong demand for EVs in the state, but that dealers to this point haven’t offered a wide range of choices to consumers. The agency says many of those vehicles get sent instead to other states that have already adopted the California standards.

California has special permission to implement its own tailpipe emission standards stricter than those of the federal government. Other states have two choices: to follow the federal government’s standards, or adopt California’s.

The MPCA estimates that the plan will require that between 6 and 7 percent of new vehicles sold in the state be zero-emission cars and trucks, including battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

“With gas at $4.64 per gallon, Minnesotans want more choices that are better for their pocketbooks and the environment,” said MPCA spokesperson Darin Broton. He added the agency is confident that the standards will be upheld in court.

Minnesota is now one of 17 states to follow California’s lead, after adopting the rules last year. They go into effect with model 2025 vehicles that will begin to hit dealer lots in early 2024.