GOP lawmakers urge Minn. officials to drop California car rules

cars painted to promote electric vehicles
Cars promoting electric powered vehicles at an educational event about electric vehicles in Roseau on Sept. 29.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News 2021

Republicans at the Capitol on Monday urged Minnesota pollution agency leaders to steer clear of tougher tailpipe emission rules laid out in California as the state considers its next steps.

Minnesota last year adopted rules that require auto manufacturers that operate in the state to make more electric and hybrid vehicles available starting in 2024. The standards are based on California requirements and were approved to help Minnesota get back in line with 2007 guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But after California announced that it would update its rules and require that all new cars, pickups and SUVs run on hydrogen or electric power sources by 2035, states with policies tied to California’s have had to decide if they’d follow the same path, or opt to follow federal guidelines.

The decision also comes as car manufacturers face supply shortages that have resulted in longer waitlists and delays for consumers hoping to buy electric or hybrid cars in Minnesota.

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Those are all factors the state should consider, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said during a hearing Monday morning. Ingebrigtsen, who chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency should make clearer to Minnesota consumers what the cost could be for setting the new requirements on vehicle manufacturers.

“If the market says, and people are able to afford an electric vehicle, and I'm all for it, that's that's just fine.That's a choice,” he said. “They don't like the idea of the state saying things like we're going to adopt standards from above all places – quite frankly – California or New York, because we are way different.”

MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler told the committee that the state would continue with the original California standards for a year before deciding what to do next. 

From there, she said she expected that pollution control leaders would follow federal rules around vehicle emissions, rather than the new ones laid out in California. States are required under the federal Clean Air Act to follow federal emission standards unless they choose to follow at least some of California’s rules.

“At this point, we are focused on implementing Clean Cars Minnesota,” Kessler said. “We do not have a plan at this time to adopt Advanced Clean Cars II.”

Kessler said federal officials would start reviewing new emission standards next year and Minnesota could decide whether to use those rules or a tweaked version of the California framework.

The market for electric cars has changed since the state started weighing the rule change in 2019, Amber Backhaus, vice president of public affairs for the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, told the committee. And it will pose a burden for auto dealers to comply with the rule, even if it only remains in place for a year.

“Our dealers that will have to buy those vehicles are going to be buying them at a time when we are going to see prices of all vehicles continue to accelerate because of the supply chain shortages. It's going to make them more expensive.” Backhaus said.

The association has sued in an effort to block the Minnesota rule from taking effect.

Democrats on the panel questioned the timing of the hearing, with just five weeks left before Election Day. And they said the state was taking the right path by transitioning Minnesota’s vehicles to more electric and hybrid options.

“There are 36 days to the election, and clearly, we're having a meeting about California, of all the things that we could be talking about … California, California, California,” Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “I understand that I live in Minnesota, and I represent Minnesota. I do not represent California, and I don't want to talk about California.”