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California car mandates have consequences for Minnesotans

This has implications for Minnesota because in 2019 Gov. Tim Walz instructed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to unilaterally adopt California’s current and future standards for low and zero emission vehicles.

Audi e-tron car
California leads the nation in electric car sales, while Minnesota ranks closer to the national average.
REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

California just announced the end of gas-powered vehicles in its state and Minnesotans should be concerned.

New regulations recently announced by California Air Resources Board (CARB) will require that 35% of new passenger vehicles sold in the Golden State must be zero emissions by 2026, a number that ramps up to and 100% of new vehicles by 2035. This has implications for Minnesota because in 2019 Gov. Tim Walz instructed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to unilaterally adopt California’s current and future standards for low and zero emission vehicles. In wake of this stunning announcement by CARB, the MPCA has reaffirmed their belief that they have the authority to adopt all the rules set by CARB “as is,” including the ban. That is a lot of power for an unelected agency.

Minnesota has always been on the forefront when it comes to clean energy and protecting our beautiful natural resources and I believe we all want to live in a world with less pollutants and greenhouse gases. But a complete ban on gas vehicles, at an arbitrary date, putting only electric vehicles on dealer lots in the hopes that people buy them is like putting more broccoli in front of a toddler in hopes that he will eat it. Just because it is there, doesn’t mean that the demand is there.

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I imagine that there are several reasons why Minnesotans don’t think an electric vehicle is for them. It might be someone like my sister, who has eight children and can’t quite get everyone into a Prius for church on Sunday mornings. Maybe it is someone who has valid concerns about the diminished driving range their electric vehicles would likely experience during the cold Minnesota winter. Perhaps it is someone who lives in rural Minnesota, where there is no battery charging infrastructure to support these vehicles.

Farmers have also expressed concerns on what these new rules mean from an equipment standpoint, given the fact that these same CARB mandates will also require that all commercial trucks and vans be zero emission starting in 2045. There are also concerned that this will have long-term negative implications for the biofuels industry, which contributes $2 billion annually to Minnesota’s economy and farmers.

Despite growing momentum toward cleaner cars, less than 1% of vehicles on the nation’s roads are electric. Minnesota dealers currently sell about 2,000 electric vehicles each year. I am a firm believer in the market and believe that we will get to a point where it might make sense to have only electric vehicles on lots, but government won’t decide that – consumers will. The fact remains though, that until certain technological innovations come forward, electric vehicles will still not be an option for many consumers. We should step back and fully evaluate our goals and how we should achieve them.

The good news is that the market is shifting on its own, negating the need for such mandates, as several automobile manufacturers are on their own investing heavily in electrification. There is still much work to be done to lengthen driving ranges, speed up battery charges, and invest in charging infrastructure but progress is being made on these fronts every day.

Amy Koch
Amy Koch
Significant upgrades would also need to be made to the electrical grid that powers Minnesota, the Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator (MISO). Improvements would need to be made both in state and regionally in anticipation of the significant increase in demand that would accompany widespread adoption of electric vehicles. MISO was the grid at highest risk of blackouts this past summer and has shortfalls in generation capacity are expected to grow from 1,200 megawatts (MW) this year to 10,900 MW by 2027. Introducing more electric vehicles would only make this worse. California has already learned this lesson the hard way, after instituting “flex alerts” on days of particularly high power demand where Californians were encouraged to conserve power by among other things, not charging their electric vehicles.

To state the obvious, Minnesota is not California and this heavy-handed approach by individual states will not have the impact that we hope it will have. Let’s not go down the one technology-fits-all path. It stifles innovation and doesn’t have the effect on greenhouse gas and pollution that is intended. California bureaucrats should not be setting pollution standards in Minnesota, and consumers should be left with a fuel choice for their vehicles.

Amy Koch is a former state senator and Senate majority leader. Koch served on the Senate Transportation and Senate Energy Committees during her tenure in the Senate and, following her time in office, as chair of the Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum.