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Walz wants to revamp Minnesota’s auto emission standards. But it’s Trump, not the Legislature, that may stand in his way

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein
The California-style rules would be Tim Walz’s biggest initiative to fight climate change as governor so far.

Greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks and buses have been difficult to cut in Minnesota, and transportation is responsible for the largest share of the state’s climate change-causing pollution.

In response, DFL Gov. Tim Walz has begun rolling out new plans to increase the supply of electric vehicles and reduce emissions. But there’s a catch: The fate of the agenda’s centerpiece — joining California in setting rules that promote low- and zero-emission vehicles — hinges on a court battle with President Donald Trump.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration said it plans to reverse California’s authority to set its own limits for tailpipe emissions — and for other states to follow — saying the Golden State’s rules give it disproportionate power over the country’s auto industry. More than 20 states, including Minnesota, have since joined a lawsuit to challenge the administration’s decision.

In an interview, Walz said automakers don’t have enough incentive to market electric vehicles in Minnesota. “If we do this, they will sell them,” Walz said of car manufacturers. “People will buy them and the market will work.”

The California-style rules would be Walz’s biggest initiative to fight climate change as governor so far, and he says they can be implemented by state agencies without approval from lawmakers.

The DFLer has had trouble moving any climate-change policies through the Legislature, due to opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate, and GOP leaders have already said they oppose the governor’s latest plan. “This is an emotional response to fear-mongering by the left,” said Sen. Paul Gazelka, the Senate’s majority leader. “Like the federal Green New Deal, it might make you feel good, but it’s really expensive and unworkable for most people.”

What California’s emission standards do

California’s power to set its own standards for tailpipe emissions dates back to the 1970s, and the state has since required increasingly tough pollution regulations for cars and trucks, known as the Low Emission Vehicle standard. Under the state’s rule, auto manufacturers also must meet quotas for producing electric cars and hybrids, known as the Zero Emission Vehicle standard.

Not counting Minnesota, 14 states and Washington D.C. have adopted a low-emission standard while 11 have approved a zero-emission standard. When California said it wanted to keep stricter regulations on auto pollution that Trump intends to relax, the president revoked California’s Clean Air Act waiver to set its own rules.

California, the federal government argued, was effectively setting standards for the country because its auto market is so big. Trump also claimed that removing California’s authority would make cars less expensive to produce and safer since more people would buy new cars with better safety features if they’re cheaper. (The EPA has, however, estimated cutting the regulations would increase highway deaths each year by 17.) Oil companies like Marathon Petroleum also quietly supported the rollback, because it would help them sell more fuel.

Walz believes the Trump administration will lose the lawsuit, and his decision to adopt California-type standards came from research by the state Department of Transportation, which has studied how to best to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.

Transportation is the largest source of emissions in the state, mainly because Minnesotans are increasingly buying large vehicles that have poorer fuel efficiency. Minnesota failed to hit a 2015 benchmark in state law to cut emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels, and is not on track to reduce emissions to meet future goals either.

Share of greenhouse gas emissions by Minnesota sector, 2016
Source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

The clean-car rules were not MnDOT’s only recommendation. The agency said Minnesota should consider new incentives for people to buy and use electric vehicles, while building new infrastructure like charging stations. The agency also said Minnesota should promote the use of biofuels, which can support jobs in rural Minnesota.

Last week, Walz issued an executive order to create a council on biofuels. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) also announced it would use $1.5 million from a settlement with Volkswagen to pay for electric heavy-duty vehicles and equipment, roughly $630,000 of which is earmarked for electric school buses. Separately, the MPCA has put up $1.2 million in grant funding for projects to reduce emissions from diesel-powered equipment from off-road sources like construction equipment and boats.

Plan criticized as unrealistic

Still, the most controversial move by the Walz administration is likely to be the auto standards.

Walz, who has championed a new gas tax to pay for infrastructure spending, said the decision would lead to more fuel-efficient cars that would save Minnesotans’ gas money and offer a boost to an electric car market that he said has lagged in Minnesota. The MnDOT report says there were just 19 models of electric cars available in Minnesota in January of 2019, while there are 43 models available in the marketplace as a whole. “If we had more choices and there were more used low-emission vehicles, we’d buy those,” Walz said.

Laura Bishop, commissioner of the MPCA, told reporters on Wednesday the rule-making process to finalize Minnesota’s auto-emissions standards should be finished by December of 2020. Walz predicted they would be similar to California’s.

The announcement Wednesday was met with celebration by a wide range of clean-energy advocates and fellow DFLers. Bree Halverson, Minnesota Program Manager at the labor and environmental collaboration BlueGreen Alliance, said Walz is “showing true leadership to grow jobs in the auto industry in the United States, clean up our air and help address climate change, and save consumers money at the pump.”

Laura Bishop
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein
Laura Bishop, commissioner of the MPCA, told reporters on Wednesday the rule-making process to finalize Minnesota’s auto-emissions standards should be finished by December of 2020.
Republicans were less enthused. Gazelka, the Senate Majority Leader, warned against unilateral decisions by the governor and said the plan was unrealistic. State Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said Walz “is trying to by-pass the voice of the people of Minnesota to enact his own radical agenda.” Torkelson is the top Republican on the House Transportation Finance and Policy committee.

Walz’s proposal even started a spat over the future of pickup trucks. “If you need an F-150 to take your ice house to go to the lake, go ahead,” Walz said. “I’m just making sure there’s ice there for you in the winter.”

Gazelka retorted on Twitter: “If you like your F-150, you can keep your F-150. We’ve [heard] that one before.” (Ford does expect to release an all-electric F-150, though the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, which opposes the rules, said Walz’s regulations would likely take trucks, minivans and SUVs off showroom floors.)

Automakers and business groups, two influential parts of the conversation, have been cautious so far about Walz’s plan. Bryan Goodman, a spokesman for the national Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told MinnPost that adopting the zero-emission vehicle mandate “would be a huge financial commitment for Minnesota” because it would require a “massive” investment in infrastructure.

That includes tax incentives, HOV lanes, and charging stations across the state, Goodman said. The Alliance represents automakers that produce a majority of cars and trucks sold in the U.S., including General Motors, Ford and Toyota.

“Additionally, it’s important to note that 80 percent of vehicles purchased last year in the state were pickup trucks, CUV, SUVs and vans,” Goodman said. “That will make it particularly hard for the state to meet California’s mandate. Minnesota policymakers should keep all of this in mind before they move forward with California’s standards.”

Laura Bordelon, senior vice president for advocacy at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said it will share MnDOT’s report with the group’s members at an upcoming meeting, but hasn’t taken a stance on the clean-car rules. The Chamber has often opposed clean-energy regulations at the state Capitol. “We’re looking forward to getting a better understanding of [the MnDOT report] recommendations and potential impacts on businesses, consumers and the economy,” Bordelon said.

For Walz, the clean-car plan represents a way to meaningfully cut carbon emissions by government action.

His efforts to require a carbon-free energy grid by 2050 and buy a slate of new electric city buses were stymied in the Legislature this year. A host of other climate-change policy, such as a more modest measure directing power companies to use clean energy and a revolving loan fund for electric vehicle charging stations proposed by Republicans, did not pass at the politically divided Capitol either.

“It’s part of the solution,” Walz said of the auto rules. “We’re trying to stay under that 2 degrees Celsius number that we think is catastrophic.”

Comments (42)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 09/26/2019 - 09:55 am.

    There is really no difference between Trump and the current leadership of the Minnesota state Senate. ” Fear-mongering by the left?” Give us a break, Senator.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Barrett on 09/26/2019 - 10:36 am.

    Someone should consider the electrical infrastructure required for an all electric transportation plan, the time it would take to build and implement it as well as the pollution emitted by additional power plants. If not, this just looks like the typical Minnesota anti-corporate education system.

    • Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 09/26/2019 - 11:31 am.

      Generally speaking, the electric utilities are on board with this idea. We don’t uses a lot of power we already generate. There are no plans to build any new coal-fired in Minnesota, and the actually addition of EVs into the fleet will be gradual. The power won’t be a problem.

    • Submitted by Don Casey on 09/26/2019 - 03:25 pm.

      Good point about cost of building electric charging infrastructure.

      How about cost of rebates and tax incentives for electric car buyers? Don’t know of any example of jurisdictions where no incentives are not offered.

      Dealer costs of maintaining an expanded slow-moving inventory? Passed on to consumers?

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/26/2019 - 09:31 pm.

      So did someone consider all the implications before we implemented air traffic? How about before we put cars on the roads, provided electricity for the country, telephone system, cell system, Internet, sewer and water before we built cities and towns, how about all the oil lines, gas stations refineries before we fossil fueled the country? Did they have all the trails cut and laid out before they opened the west, or all the sea, lake, river ports, canals docks, dredging, locks etc. before they started using the water ways? .

  3. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 09/26/2019 - 11:07 am.

    “If you like your F-150, you can keep your F-150.”
    We’ve heard promises like this before.

    • Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 09/26/2019 - 12:52 pm.

      I drove an F-150 to the press event (I’m standing behind the governor, both literally and figuratively). Of course, it was fueled with E85, not gasoline. You can see part of me in the photo with Commissioner Bishop.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/01/2019 - 11:35 pm.

        The E85 truck was probably the biggest polluter there. An ecological disaster on wheels. Trump is actually doing right by the environment in taking on ethanol.

  4. Submitted by Mike Hindin on 09/26/2019 - 11:09 am.

    No one needs to go beyond 70 miles per hour yet many speedometers read up to 120 mph and many cars can top 90 or 100. Design smaller more efficient engines and transmissions geared to perform between 0 and 70.

  5. Submitted by Michael Miles on 09/26/2019 - 12:35 pm.

    From following this closely for 20 years, my sense is that the people in the US do not understand the scientific method, nor do they care. They only talk of beliefs, or no believing. It’s like reverting to the Dark Ages. Understanding the scientific method allows you to understand that when a vast majority of the researchers dedicated to study a phenomena reach consensus, regarding a hypothesis, it needs to be considered a fact.

    This has allowed the fossil fuel industry to successfully stand in the way of any solution.

    According the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) at our current rate we have only eight years of allowable CO2 emissions to still retain a 67% chance of staying underr an average global temperature increase. From their predictions, if we pass that milestone, the climate will be in a runaway condition from which there is no recovery.

    In my humble opinion it’s time to start talking about States Rights, as without people, there will be no jobs.

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 09/26/2019 - 03:23 pm.

      The scientific method includes experiments to and making conclusions from those experiences. All we’ve seen is temperature taking and visuals.

      The doomsayers all keep saying the same thing only changing how long we have. After all, we were all supposed to have been fried by the shrinking ozone layer by these same ‘experts.’

      What’s never mentioned in all of this is the extreme higher expense it will be for all of this. Those with limited incomes will be stuck with older cars. Then again, the damage to the earth to find what is needed to build these new cars is also never mentioned.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/26/2019 - 07:39 pm.

        Talking about expense, what’s never mentioned is the $750B that goes into the defense, Military-Industrial complex. And none of those $ could be invested in a different infrastructure. Last I heard it was a REPUBLICAN president that sent that warning, and then he invested a ton of $ in a US Interstate highway system, suppose that was a waste of good tax $ as well.

      • Submitted by ian wade on 09/27/2019 - 02:15 am.

        Oh, spare me. Cost hasn’t been a factor in truck sales. Just about every advertised truck seen during the average commercial in a televised football game lists above 50K. Cost is always an issue for people with limited incomes. They’re not the problem here.

  6. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 09/26/2019 - 12:36 pm.

    Recall this highly revealing incident in the MN House earlier in the year. There was a vote on the following statement:

    “The legislature finds and declares that greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities are a key cause of climate change.”

    “It broke largely along party lines: 79 lawmakers, including all 75 Democrats, voted yes, and 50 Republicans voted no. Five Republicans did not vote.”

    For quite some time there’s been no room for reasonable doubt on the fact of climate change or its primary cause. And yet, every Republican who voted got a failing grade on this basic science quiz.

    If you can’t get the science right on climate change, what business do you have legislating on this issue (or probably anything else for that matter, since egregious scientific ignorance in one area probably reflects an overall pattern of bias and anti-intellectualism)?

    Minneapolis City Council members, state legislators, and school board members: How are you going to address the problem of climate science illiteracy? What curriculum in K-12 is needed to help solve this problem?

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 09/26/2019 - 03:26 pm.

      Carbon emissions have never been proven to be the reason why. Why are we so arrogant in thinking that we can make changes to everything? We’ve had huge warm periods. Heck, where we are used to be under thousands of feet of ice. In the 70’s, ‘we were causing a mini-Ice Age.’ Cripes almighty.

      • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 09/26/2019 - 04:14 pm.

        “Carbon emissions have never been proven to be the reason why.”

        Actually, CO2 and other greenhouse gases HAVE been proven to be the drivers of climate change. You’re not reading the available research. That’s why you don’t know this.

        “Why are we so arrogant in thinking that we can make changes to everything?”

        This has nothing to do with arrogance, but rather empirical evidence of humanity’s footprint. Take billions of humans engaging in the kinds of activities we do – mining, farming, logging, fossil fuel extraction, development in general – and it would be surprising if we DIDN’T have a major impact on earth systems.

        We’ve modified over 50% of the earth’s land surface already:

        Humans have cut down 46% of the world’s forests:

        It’s clear that humanity can have major impacts on the earth. It’s not arrogant to point this out, it’s merely factual.

        What you see in comments that deny climate change or humanity’s role in it is, in part, an utter absence of awareness that scientific understanding changes over time as theories and evidence acquire more accuracy and validity. Science didn’t stop in the 1970s. Science is a perpetual enterprise that seeks to continually improve its understanding. Sometimes old ideas are tossed out.

      • Submitted by ian wade on 09/27/2019 - 02:17 am.

        Uhhh, no. The”ice age” scenario was painted by a couple of magazine articles. There was never any scientific basis nor claim that at a new ice age was coming.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/27/2019 - 09:41 am.

          I wouldn’t waste your keystrokes pointing that out anymore. They know what they know, and until someone gives them another talking point, they’re going to stick to it.

  7. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 09/26/2019 - 02:42 pm.

    The primary reason for many EVs not being available in MN is the weather. The manufacturers refuse to sell outside an area that is generally not really cold all year. Until they can put in batteries that can take a 50% to 60% reduction in capacity (due to *cold* weather, say -10F) and still deliver 200+ miles on a single charge (with heat on full, headlights and defrosters on, and so on), that group will strictly be a “warm weather car” producer.

  8. Submitted by Don Casey on 09/26/2019 - 03:27 pm.

    How many realized One Minnesota meant creating California of the Midwest?.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/27/2019 - 09:02 am.

    While I don’t think Walz’s plan is “radical,” in the fear-mongering sense of your typical Minnesota Republican legislator, it does bring with it some problems that would affect me personally.

    A year ago, I bought a new car – a gas-electric hybrid that typically gets more than 50 mpg around the Twin Cities, and in the mid-40 mpg range on longer interstate trips at higher speeds. Each summer, for as long as I’m able, I have made, and hope to continue to make, an automobile trip to the Rocky Mountains – usually in Colorado, where I have relatives, with whom I can stay, but this year to Montana. Those trips usually total about 3,000 miles by the time I return to the Twin Cities. Flying to the nearest airport, renting a vehicle locally, then flying back to MSP, would dramatically increase the carbon footprint of the trip, so is not a better environmental option, though it would obviously save time.

    With current EV technology, what is now a 2-day drive to Rocky Mountain National Park or Glacier National Park becomes a 4-day drive to the same destination. One night in a motel somewhere in Nebraska or the Dakotas at whatever cost, becomes 3 nights in 3 different motels, each with its own cost. On this summer’s trip, I averaged roughly 550 miles a day – some days more, some days a bit less – but in any case, at least twice the current range of even the best EVs. A fuel stop took 10 to 15 minutes, depending upon whether it became a bathroom stop, as well. The EVs I currently see on the market need 8 or 9 hours to fully recharge after a 250-mile day. So… half the distance, and 8 or 9 hours to refuel, versus twice the distance, and a few minutes to refuel.

    If you never leave the Twin Cities (or any metro area in the country), an EV makes sense to me, and should I reach a point in life where long-distance travel in the U.S. is no longer viable or desirable, I’d certainly be willing to go that route. But I’m not yet at that point. Presently, there’s not enough infrastructure to make an EV a viable alternative for cross-country travel, battery technology in the vehicle itself needs to make a sizable leap forward to make an EV a cross-country alternative, and battery cost has to be reduced substantially so that EV owners are not hit with $3,000+ surprises when their vehicle battery needs to be replaced.

    I should add that various incentives to try to persuade people to buy EVs are working in the opposite direction of some current ideas for raising money for road maintenance, several of which essentially penalize EV (and hybrid) drivers through higher registration fees, additional taxes, etc., because their owners are not purchasing enough gasoline to maintain the necessary revenue stream. That “working against each other” problem is not helped by Republicans who refuse to consider raising the gasoline tax, while simultaneously reflexively opposing measures to incentivize EVs and hybrids. Personally, I’d like to see a VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) tax, which strikes me as a more fair way to raise road-maintenance funds, regardless of fuel used.

    • Submitted by John N. Finn on 09/27/2019 - 10:27 am.

      All of these reasonable considerations about whether to go all electric for your transportation needs would be irrelevant if…..

      ….there were an extensive high speed rail network connecting cities and towns that had their own regional rail systems, were served by public transit and were not developed over decades to accommodate private automobile travel, parking, truck access to dispersed industries and so forth.

      But one has to live in the here and now. It’s all about keeping the cars and pickups. The above scenario would take quite a bit of infrastructure spending and an inconceivable change in lifestyles.

    • Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 09/27/2019 - 12:19 pm.

      You make ONE trip per year that is 3000+ miles. Rent a vehicle with unlimited miles per week (been there, done that) and take your trip.

  10. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 09/27/2019 - 02:45 pm.

    “The California-style rules would be Walz’s biggest initiative to fight climate change as governor so far, and he says they can be implemented by state agencies without approval from lawmakers.”

    Is this an attack on our democracy?

  11. Submitted by cory johnson on 09/27/2019 - 06:41 pm.

    Give me a break. Going to 50% renewable by 203” would reduce global temps by .0006 degrees C. Not worth destroying our lives over. I prefer relying on technology advancing carbon capture to going back to the dark ages.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/29/2019 - 07:59 am.

      Word from the professionals/scientists is that we will destroy our lives if we don’t make changes, or is “science” now fake? Could you explain which science is fake and which is not?

      “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

      • Submitted by cory johnson on 09/29/2019 - 11:33 am.

        Unfortunately leftists have corrupted climate science to a great degree. They speak of “settled science” which is a term that should revolt real scientists. They’ve effectively turned climate activism into a religion in which all must bow to alarmist orthodoxy or be labeled heretics. And they report predictions based on the most extreme computer generated outcomes in order to advance their leftist agendas (which AOC’s former chief of staff admitted).
        The truth, based on science, is that destroying our way of life in the US will have a negligible effect on carbon production worldwide.

        • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/29/2019 - 06:58 pm.

          And of course you have proof of the “corrupted climate science” you know that proof and rigorous questioning is the scientific method and is required? You also have proof about, the”settled science” that can withstand peer questioning, is not settled science? You also have proof to support “climate activism into a religion”? Again, we would like to see the peer review, “they report predictions based on the most extreme computer generated outcomes” Most/probably all scientific reports, forecasts predictions etc. have something called standard distribution curves, reporting both ends, worst case and best case, as well as most likely, if you fail to ask the question don’t blame the messenger. Again show how the reporting was biased, the peers would like to review your findings,
          ” destroying our way of life in the US” As with above, perhaps you could put some boundaries on this, what is being destroyed, and support it with the science? Personally, cleaner, air, land, water etc is not destruction. Evidently you consider a cleaner environment destructive vs constructive, i.e the more pollution the better stance.

        • Submitted by Dave Carlson on 10/01/2019 - 03:36 pm.

          Cory… this can so very easily be turned around…

          RIGHTISTS “have corrupted climate science to a great degree. They speak of ‘FAKE science’ which is a term that should revolt real scientists. They’ve effectively turned climate DENIAL into a religion in which all must bow to HEAD-IN-THE-SAND orthodoxy… And they report predictions based on A FEW INDUSTRY-SUPPORTED HACKS in order to advance their RIGHTIST agendas”…

  12. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/28/2019 - 07:46 am.

    The average price for a gallon of regular gas in California is around $4.00.

    Why should they have all the fun? If Minnesota wants to play, I say we let them play. States rights!

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/29/2019 - 11:04 am.

      And Californian’s typically don’t hand out what ~$150-200 a month in heating costs every winter. So your point is ?

      • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/30/2019 - 09:09 am.

        We must pay, and pay more to save the Earth. We’re also going to have to get used to living like our ancestors lived; wear long underwear to bed and sweaters during the day.

        Consensus has been reached.

        • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/30/2019 - 11:45 am.

          There is a difference in paying and investing, and yes this time of year we pull out the sweaters and long underwear here in MN. Not sure anyone is going to be living like our ancestors, no phones, no cars, no computers, no appliances, no electricity, etc. etc. Coudl you show us where that is in the plan?

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