REGIONAL- A Republican state senator issued an ultimatum to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) last week: halt proposed new “clean car” emissions standards now or watch state …
REGIONAL- A Republican state senator issued an ultimatum to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) last week: halt proposed new “clean car” emissions standards now or watch state parks close and millions of dollars for environmental initiatives disappear come July 1.
Speaking on May 4 to a virtual conference committee meeting of Senate and House legislators working on the omnibus environment budget, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, took the hardline stance against new rules that would boost the number of zero-emissions electric vehicles in the state and improve air quality standards. The budget will not move forward, Ingebrigtsen said, unless the proposed rules come off the table and the Senate’s version of the budget is agreed to.
Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, delineated the scope of Ingebrigtsen’s demand.
“So, if there’s not a repeal of the authority for the Clean Car rulemaking coming out of this conference committee, then the budgets for BWSR (the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources), the Minnesota Zoo, the LCCR (Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources), the Conservation Corps, the Science Museum, the Board of Water and Soil Resources the MPCA and the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) will not happen, unless we accede to the Senate position, is that correct, Sen. Ingebrigtsen?”
“Rep. Hansen, that is exactly correct,” Ingebrigtsen said.
Without an environment budget agreement there would be no new funding for those entities as of July 1. The biggest loser would be the DNR, which could lose $9.8 million in general fund dollars.
“If we do not have a budget for the fiscal year we don’t operate,” DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen told the committee, noting that all state parks would have to close.
But the cuts in the Senate version of the budget would have far reaching impacts, slashing funds for programs as diverse as combating chronic wasting disease in deer to cleaning up chemicals in water supplies.
Two days later, Ingebrigtsen and Republicans backed away from demanding a total repeal of MPCA’s authority to issue clean car emissions rules, offering instead a proposal for a two-year delay that would push adoption of the rules to 2024, along with a lengthy list of items from the House version of the bill that they would agree to. However, Ingebrigtsen made it clear on Monday that if House conferees did not agree to the two-year moratorium the budget would not move ahead.
“There were three different offers that were made to the MPCA last year, all of which were turned down, and here we are again,” Ingebrigtsen said. “The whole thing is contingent on the California emission standards that the MCPA has put forward. We’ve already compromised on the California emission standards. We’ve already compromised from a full repeal to a two-year moratorium.”
Given that the federal government requires a two-year waiting period between the time new rules are approved and when they go into effect, the moratorium would push the effective date of the rules out to 2026.
Hansen flatly rejected the moratorium proposal. The House conference committee members offered a counterproposal on Tuesday, its third, that reinforced their opposition to a moratorium on implementing the rules.
While the federal Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the power to regulate air pollution from vehicles, California was given an exemption to develop more stringent regulations. No other state is allowed to develop its own regulations, but they can choose to adopt the stricter California regulations if they wish, which 14 states and the District of Columbia have done.
In the fall of 2019, at the direction of Gov. Tim Walz, the MCPA initiated a process to create new rules for vehicle emissions standards based on the California model. As affirmed last week in a ruling by Judge Jessica Palmer-Denig, an administrative law judge, the MCPA has the legal authority to develop and implement such rules without having to go through the Legislature.
At the crux of the dispute are the rules involving zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) that generate fewer emissions linked to global warming and which don’t produce tailpipe pollution. In addition to battery-powered electric vehicles, the ZEV standard also includes plug-in hybrid models combining gasoline-powered engines with rechargeable batteries and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
If the new rules for Minnesota are enacted this year, beginning in 2024 automotive manufacturers and automotive dealerships would be required to boost the availability of ZEVs in the state. Manufacturers would have to ensure specific levels of ZEV shipments, and dealerships would have to alter their inventories to offer Minnesotans more ZEV choices. The MPCA reports that fewer than half of the 40 models currently sold in the U.S. are available in Minnesota.
The proposed rules generated immediate pushback from skeptical lawmakers on both sides of the aisle at the outset of the 2020 legislative session. Ingebrigtsen was out front with his concerns, and so, too, was Sen. Tom Bakk, of Cook, at the time still a member of the DFL, who favored an incentive-based approach rather than a regulatory one.
The Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, which represents the state’s franchised new car and truck dealers, has been an outspoken opponent of the new rules from the beginning, and in January 2021 filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to block the rules.
“From the beginning, the MPCA has shown little understanding of how our industry operates and dismissed our concerns and good faith efforts to discuss other options,” said MADA President Scott Lambert when the lawsuit was filed.
For her part, MCPA Commissioner Laura Bishop and ZEV supporters have consistently promoted the benefits of the new rules for reducing greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change, reducing carbon emissions to meet state goals and improve public health, and creating more consumer choice.
The controversy is playing out against the backdrop of Minnesota’s 2007 Next Generation Energy Act, which received broad bipartisan support when it was passed. The act required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the state of 15 percent by 2015, 30 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050. The state missed the 2015 goal by almost half, with reductions from electricity generation showing the most improvement. Subsequently, the trend in emissions headed the other direction, as other sectors saw increases or small decreases from 2016 to 2018. The most recent report to the Legislature stated that “the trend in emissions indicates Minnesota will not meet its Next Generation Energy Act goals without significant action in all sectors.”
Transportation is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota, the report said, accounting for about one quarter of the total emissions in the state.
During Tuesday’s conference committee hearing, there was little sign either side was ready to concede.
Sen. David Tomassoni, I-Chisholm, questioned the need for the new rules and objected to adopting California’s regulations.
“I drove through a car dealership in Hibbing the other day and there were 60 electric vehicles on the lot, so I’m not convinced we won’t be able to get vehicles,” he said.
All those electric vehicles in Hibbing weren’t there long. After questions from the Timberjay about his claim, Tomassoni said he later learned the vehicles, all white Chevy Bolts, were part of a fleet buy and that the vehicles were shipped out soon after. As of this week, the Timberjay confirmed that only one electric vehicle was available for purchase in Hibbing. A second electric vehicle, a Mustang MachE was on display at Hibbing Ford, but was not immediately for sale.
Ingebrigtsen asserted that “Minnesotans, at least the ones I represent, think they should have this opened up for more discussion.”
“The (administrative law judge) just ruled that the proposed rules are needed and reasonable,” said Rep. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven. “This is settled science that we have to be addressing greenhouse gas emissions. We need to be bringing them down to address climate change. This is something that has to happen.”
But Ingebrigtsen wasn’t budging.
“I’ve made it very clear we’re not going to move forward unless our stand on this is accepted,” he said.