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Minnesota should become a clean car state — and that’s just the beginning

There is much more work to be done for the state to truly act on climate, save lives, and address intersecting crises.

Audi e-tron car
REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Virginia just became the first state in the southeast to become a clean car state, and now Minnesota has the opportunity to be the first in the Midwest, home of the auto industry.

How did we get here? In 2019, while the federal administration attacked states’ authority to protect residents from car and truck pollution in an unprecedented move, Gov. Tim Walz took action to safeguard Minnesota’s right by signaling it would move forward with stronger tailpipe pollution standards.

Walz announced that Minnesota would join a growing list of states and territories to adopt standards that require new cars sold in the state to emit less pollution and that an increasing percentage of new cars sold in the state be zero-emission vehicles. The clean car standards already protect the environment and public health of more than 118 million people, upwards of 40 percent of the U.S. population. Walz’s announcement signaled that Minnesota, along with other states like Virginia, New Mexico, and Nevada, were poised to choose progress when the federal government was throwing some of the nation’s strongest clean transportation and climate policies in reverse.

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Adoption of Clean Cars Minnesota is close

Now in 2021, we’re at the phase where the program’s adoption is close. During two days of virtual testimony and all throughout an open public comment period, tens of thousands of people expressed their support for Clean Cars Minnesota for health, economic, environmental, and consumer reasons.

Margaret Levin
Margaret Levin
A broad coalition, including the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, health groups like the American Lung Association, consumer groups, ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, state legislators, the City of Minneapolis, faith leaders, medical professionals, and more have submitted letters to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in support of a clean car program.

Cars and trucks on Minnesota roads are the largest source of climate pollution in our state and nationally, and a significant source of dangerous air pollution. Current estimates suggest that Clean Cars Minnesota will eliminate 1 million tons of climate emissions annually by 2030 and help put the state on track to meet its emissions reduction goals. It would do this by expanding consumer choice, allowing residents to purchase clean vehicles that are right for them, including some of the newly announced electric trucks headed to the market.

Report card grading Walz finds his actions fall short

While Minnesota becoming a clean car state is significant, there is much more work to be done for the state to truly act on climate, save lives, and address intersecting crises. Recently, the Sierra Club joined a coalition of Minnesota environmental, worker, Indigenous and progressive groups in releasing a mid-term climate report card grading Walz on his actions to ensure a sustainable and equitable future for Minnesota. Unfortunately, the report card found that Walz’s actions fall short of the bold and decisive measures needed to respond to the climate crisis. For efforts to electrify our transportation system, Walz got a “C.” Funding for transit? An “F.”

Walz should also prioritize significant investments in public transit and making getting around without a car in urban areas safer and easier, steps which will pull his leadership up to a “straight A” when it comes to transportation and a variety of other priorities.

Minnesota should join the ranks of 15 states across the nation and Washington, D.C., in becoming a clean car state. It’s a significant step with major benefits. And there’s a whole lot more to be done to build a vibrant and healthy state where Minnesotans of all classes, races, histories, and identities grow and thrive together.

Margaret Levin is the director of the Minnesota Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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