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Setting the record straight on Clean Cars Minnesota

Clean Cars Minnesota offers choices and savings to consumers alongside public health and climate benefits, but misunderstanding and misinformation are prevalent.

Over a year ago Gov. Tim Walz announced the intention of his administration to pursue adopting tougher tailpipe emissions standards, known as clean car standards. Unfortunately, those who profit off the status quo are perpetuating myths about clean cars to try to scare people into opposing this common-sense step forward. Let’s set the record straight about why we need clean cars and the truth about some misleading claims.

Clean Cars Minnesota gives Minnesota and its residents more choices, not less.

Clean Cars Minnesota is the effort to adopt clean car standards here in the North Star state. If adopted, it will increase consumers’ choices of and access to cleaner cars and trucks (both gas-powered and electric) while saving drivers money on fuel costs and, in the case of electric vehicles, maintenance fees. A recent report shows that cost savings over the life of a gas-powered vehicle can range from about $800 for cars to almost $2,000 for pickups.

Clean Cars Minnesota is also a state’s choice. While many auto regulations are handed down by the federal government, a quirk in federal policy surrounding emissions standards allows two to exist. States pick the one best for them — i.e. the federal emissions standards, to which no alterations can be made; or clean car standards, originally drafted by California and so far adopted and upheld by 14 states and the District of Columbia. Clean car states currently represent about 35% of annual new passenger vehicle sales in the U.S.

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Clean Cars Minnesota is needed because of federal rollbacks to existing regulations.

Beginning in 2012 federal tailpipe emissions standards matched the clean car rules. This means millions of Americans enjoyed cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars and trucks that ultimately saved them money while reducing carbon pollution. Unfortunately, those benefits were cut by the Trump administration in March 2020 when it announced that it would gut its own emissions standards, despite analysis by its own agency finding that such a move would cost 13,500 American jobs. Analyses conducted since show that these rollbacks promise to release an additional 453 million metric tons of carbon pollution. It is because of this federal failure that Minnesota took the lead.

Clean Cars Minnesota has widespread support among the public and organizations.

Last December, more than 2,400 public comments were received by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) as it sought feedback on Clean Cars Minnesota. The majority were overwhelmingly supportive for reasons of health, climate, and choice. Since then the support has only deepened, with numerous positive letters to the editors published around Minnesota, including from those living outside the Twin Cities. More recently, not one, but two letters of support for clean car standards were released. One collected the signatures of 46 organizations, many of them local and representing a swath of interests from business, health, faith, and the environment. The other sought the signatures of elected officials from around the country who supported clean car standards, including 10 officials from Minnesota.

Clean Cars Minnesota will adopt established rules, not vaguely defined future policies.

Anjali Bains
Anjali Bains
It must be emphasized that Clean Cars Minnesota is a process to adopt specific, existing rule language, called the Advanced Clean Cars I program. It includes three separate provisions: the Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV) III Criteria rule, which seeks to reduce air pollutants like soot and other pollutants from tailpipes; the LEV III GHG rule, which seeks to reduce carbon pollution from cars and trucks; and the Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) rule, which through a complex credit system incentivizes automakers to deliver for sale more electric vehicles to Minnesota than they currently do. Other, future-oriented policy goals such as California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s gas-free California executive order play no role in what Minnesota is looking to do.

Minnesotans want to move forward, not back.

In 2007, the bipartisan Next Generation Energy Act was signed into law by then Gov. Tim Pawlenty requiring an 80% reduction in pollution emissions by 2050, with benchmarks to track progress along the way. According to the latest state-level data, Minnesota has only reduced overall carbon emissions by 12% since 2005. The latest science shows that Minnesota’s reduction efforts must be accelerated to avoid the worst impacts of climate change across the state.

Clean Cars Minnesota will help Minnesota fulfill the promise it made nearly 15 years ago, by getting us back on track to be the climate leader we know we can be.

Anjali Bains is a senior policy associate at Fresh Energy, where she leads on analyzing and supporting policies that accelerate the electrification of Minnesota’s transportation system.

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