What other states are doing
The "Clean Cars" bills pending in the Legislature largely adopt California's air emission regulations for passenger vehicles. If enacted, the legislation would effectively increase automobile fuel efficiency to more than 40 miles per gallon by 2020 and nearly double the reduction of carbon dioxide gasses linked to climate change. The less-restrictive 2007 federal energy law requires automakers to produce a nation-wide fleet of vehicles that would average 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
If the Minnesota legislation is approved, it would affect passenger vehicles in the 2012 model year.
States that have already adopted the California rules are Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Other states considering adopting the rules are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, and Utah. —Ron Way
Key arguments in debate
A central focus of the debate over the so-called "California Clean Cars" legislation before the Minnesota Legislature is whether its provisions would harm the state's ethanol industry. The measure would bind Minnesota to California's motor vehicle emissions standards, which are more stringent than the federal government's. Here are key issues raised by opponents of the legislation and responses by the California Air Resources Board (ARB). Answers are provided by ARB Chief Deputy Tom Cackette and board spokesman Dimitri Stanich. For more additional information, go here. [PDF]).
Issue One: California air standards that would be adopted by the Minnesota legislation do not support Minnesota's commitment to E-85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline). Also, many "flex fuel" vehicles capable of burning E-85 cannot be certified under California regulations.
ARB: California has certified more than 300,000 lex fuel vehicles capable of burning various ethanol-gasoline blends up to E-85, and the ARB is not aware of any flex fuel vehicle that cannot be certified. There would be more flex fuel vehicles in California, but the problem is supply (California is far removed from Midwestern ethanol producers and shipping costs are high). E-85 is available in fewer than a half dozen pumps around a state that has seven times more people than Minnesota, and California is currently spending $500,000 to expand the number of pumps.
Issue Two: Farmers and commercial users drive pick-ups and small trucks, vehicles that also are preferred by many consumers. Would California standards limit or eliminate large vehicles?
ARB: No, and in fact many large vehicles are already certified by California air emissions standards. Also, pending Minnesota legislation would exempt vehicles weighing more than 8,500 pounds.
Issue Three: California is considering a rule change that would make it technically difficult for flex fuel vehicles to be certified.
ARB: California may consider a rule change in 2010 that could affect certification of current flex fuel vehicles, although technologies already are in some vehicles that would reduce emissions to meet any future standard. The problem is unusually high emissions when the vehicles are first started and the engine is cold. Any rule change would not be applied until at least 2013, and California is in active discussions with auto manufacturers to address the "cold-start" problem with a fuel-injection technology that's currently widely used in many German-made cars and in GM's Saturn Sky and Pontiac's Solstice.
Issue Four: Unlike Minnesota's E-10 fuel, California has E-5.7 fuel, and so the standards apply to a fuel that's different.
ARB: California has adopted a state-wide E-10 fuel mandate (Minnesota is one of five states to have such a mandate) that begins next year and is expected to be fully implemented by 2012. But again, it is the lack of fuel supply that affects the expansion and not the air standards. California is investing in ethanol expansion, with at least two new plants under construction and another 60 planned.
Issue Five: Minnesota has petitioned the federal government to allow it to mandate E-20 fuel in the state, and it's doubtful whether the petition could be granted if the state adopts California's air emissions standards.
ARB: There is nothing in the standards that would prevent U.S. approval of the state's application to move from E-10 to E-20, just as there is nothing that affects the use of E-85 in flex fuel vehicles in California under the present air standards.
Issue Six: For vehicle manufacturers to get carbon-reduction credits for its flex-fuel vehicles there needs to be some means of verifying that the vehicles are actually using E-85 and not a lower blend. There currently is no way to prove the level of use.
ARB: The objective is to ensure that E-85 is actually being used. California is working with manufacturers on this, and possible solutions are driver surveys of E-85 or to collect data from on-board computers that regulate the engine to burn various fuel blends. —Ron Way