If the recent snap of cold weather has reminded us of anything, it is that Minnesota is certainly not California. This is why I was disappointed to hear that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is currently considering a rule largely based on the Golden State’s zero-emissions vehicle program.
The rule would require automakers to provide, and dealers in our state to sell, a specified number of plug-in hybrids, fully electric vehicles, or fuel cell electric vehicles in order to fulfill a government mandate.
Would limit consumer choice
This mandate is not the way to ensure a greener future. In contrast with California, which is consistently recognized as one of the worst states for air quality in the nation, Minnesota has some of the cleanest air in America. Statewide it meets nearly all federal standards and health benchmarks and overall pollution levels in Minnesota have been on the decline for several years now, a trend that is expected to continue. Adopting the proposed MPCA clean car mandate will harm consumers by limiting the availability of certain vehicles and allow government officials thousands of miles away to decide how many electric vehicles (EVs) must be offered for sale in our state.
Due to our winter weather and active outdoor lifestyles, Minnesotans choose many models that often aren’t available in the EV variety. But if this proposed rule is adopted, we may lose the ability to choose what vehicle we want to purchase as soon as 2035 as auto dealers will be forced to maintain higher inventory levels of electric vehicles and other lower-demand automobiles. Furthermore, many families will not be able to afford the additional cost of an electric vehicle, which averages $19,000 more than a similar fuel-powered counterpart, and the lack of charging stations presents a serious barrier to EV ownership.
Some consumers are already moving toward cleaner and more efficient cars without a mandate, as it fits their lifestyles. From 2018-2019 EV registrations in the state nearly doubled, showing that demand exists absent government intervention. This consumer data calls into question whether mandates are truly the most efficient way to promote a low carbon economy.
Some proponents of the rule have pointed to a MPCA report noting the air pollution existing in Minnesota as a rationale for greater EV consumption. But that rationale for a government mandate for EV sales is misguided for several reasons. In reality, EVs are aren’t actually free of emissions. The electricity from power plants to recharge EVs are a source of emissions. A ConservAmerica paper also noted the “manufacturing of batteries for use in battery electric vehicles contributes 10-30% of their lifecycle emissions due to the significant amount of energy required for materials extraction and processing.”
Should be a legislative decision
If the voters of Minnesota really want an electric vehicle mandate, there should be no need to bypass the Legislature. Gov. Tim Walz’s decision to do so represents a concerning overreach of executive authority. The Minnesota Legislature, which actually represents the communities that would be impacted by this mandate, should have the final say on such a significant regulation.
Making this a legislative decision would allow for all aspects of the policy and questions from stakeholders to be fleshed out, and result in a rule that would truly reflect the will of the voters. At the same time, some lawmakers have supported legislation that would strip the MPCA of its rulemaking authority altogether. That measure is an overreach, and we should be careful not to prevent an important state regulatory agency from carrying out duties that are squarely within their mission. Stakeholders need to find a middle ground.
Look for market-oriented approaches
By forcing Minnesotans to comply with emissions standards dictated by regulators, Walz and the MPCA will limit consumer choice and increase the cost of new vehicles. One size does not fit all when it comes to environmental policy. A more sensible option would be to abandon this proposed rule and to work with stakeholders in our state to find market-oriented approaches that rely on local participation to encourage competition and deliver the best solutions in the shortest amount of time.
Betsy Wergin is a former Minnesota state senator and Public Utilities commissioner.
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