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DFL lawmakers backtrack on pledge to oppose ‘Clean Cars’ rules for Minnesota

Two DFLers asked to be removed from a list of more than 120 candidates who said they would fight efforts to mirror regulations written by other states, including the California rules Gov. Tim Walz hopes to adopt on cleaner-burning cars and electric vehicles.

MPCA
Under federal law, California is the only state that can set its own auto emission standards. Other states can choose to either follow California’s stricter pollution rules or use standards set by the federal government.
Two Democratic state lawmakers who signed a pledge opposing tougher vehicle emission standards proposed by Gov. Tim Walz now say they support the regulations.

State Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, and state Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, asked to be removed from a list of more than 120 candidates who said they would fight efforts to mirror regulations written by other states, including California rules Walz hopes to adopt that promote cleaner-burning cars and electric vehicles.

The pledge was circulated to legislative candidates by the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, which has staunchly opposed what the state has billed as its “Clean Cars” rules. “I clearly misread the statement,” said Rest, who said she supports the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency moving ahead with the planned emissions standards.

Under federal law, California is the only state that can set its own auto emission standards. Other states can choose to either follow California’s stricter pollution rules or use standards set by the federal government. The Trump administration has worked to roll back national standards

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Last year, Walz announced his administration would consider adopting California’s standards for low-emission vehicles (LEV) and zero-emission vehicles (ZEV). The LEV standard requires auto manufacturers to create cars that pollute less, while the ZEV standard makes auto manufacturers provide more electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen-powered cars for sale.

State Sen. Ann Rest
State Sen. Ann Rest
The auto dealers’ pledge says: “I pledge to oppose efforts which would result in placing regulatory control over Minnesota constituents into the hands of a regulatory body of another state.”

While most of the governor’s proposals to reduce carbon emissions have stalled in the Republican-led Senate — such as his plan to require a carbon-free energy grid by 2050 — Walz believes the MPCA can adopt the regulations without input from the Legislature based on existing state law.

Still, the GOP and a small group of conservative Democrats have opposed the vehicle standards, and the issue has spilled over into campaign season. Rest and Kunesh-Podein were notable because they were the only two DFLers from the Twin Cities metro area to sign the pledge. Now only eight DFLers have agreed to the MADA pledge.

Over the weekend, Rest said she opposed letting either California or the federal government dictate Minnesota’s emissions standards. She said she supported a clean car standard but said the MPCA needs “a lot of attention to details and how it works” in Minnesota.

State State Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein
State Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein
On Tuesday, Rest said: “I’m going to trust that the rule-making process that they’re going through is going to be thorough and something that I’m really prepared to support.”

Kunesh-Podein also signed the pledge, though the card she submitted to the auto dealers association came with a hand-written note saying she believes “vehicle emissions are a contributor for a substantial proportion of the exposure to carbon monoxide, nitrogen & toxic organic compounds.”

The note continues: “I will look to the health & welfare of my constituents and all of Minnesota, basing decisions on proven science, facts, and the will of my district.”

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The auto dealers’ organization said Kunesh-Podein’s signature and her statement did not appear to conflict. In an interview Tuesday, the Democrat said she “did not intend to sign the pledge in support of their viewpoint.”

Kunesh-Podein is running for state Senate in District 41, which covers a swath of suburbs like Fridley and Columbia Heights just outside of Northeast Minneapolis. She said she is in favor of the Clean Cars rules. “Other states that have adopted these rules have seen significant benefits,” Kunesh-Podein said. “I’d like Minnesota to join the list of states ensuring clean car standards that lessen effects of climate change enduring a healthy environment for generations to come.”