Clean Cars plan is a win-win step for Minnesota

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photo credit: Dept. of Energy

By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership  – (@mattjdoll)

On Wednesday, as part of Climate Week in Minnesota, the Walz Administration announced its intent to make Minnesota the latest of 15 states to begin adopting clean car standards. Governor Walz directed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to begin rule making that would require automakers to sell more electric vehicles in Minnesota and improve statewide vehicle emissions standards overall.

Though Clean Cars Minnesota won’t take immediate effect, it’s a laudable and necessary step forward for Minnesota’s efforts to combat climate change and build healthier communities. More and more, Minnesotans are voicing their commitment for climate action, as we saw in last weekend’s worldwide climate strikes. But the fact remains that the infrastructure and options available to Minnesotans continue to be dominated by fossil-fueled vehicles – unlike in states that already have clean car rules, there aren’t many electric models available in Minnesota.

That’s why clean car standards are so critical to kickstarting a thriving EV market in our state. In the same way that policies that boosted wind and solar presaged them becoming the cheapest and fastest-expanding source of electricity, Minnesota can help do the same for electric cars.

Why is electrifying Minnesota’s transportation so important?

First, as coal plants have been replaced and Minnesota’s electricity has gotten cleaner, transportation has replaced it Minnesota’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Cars, light trucks, SUVs, and other commuter vehicles cause the majority of the sector’s emissions.

While our state’s transportation emissions fell by 8% since 2005 as vehicles on the market grew more efficient, they aren’t declining fast enough, partly because purchasers have favored larger vehicles, like trucks and SUVs, in recent years. Electric vehicles, in contrast, emit no carbon in their day-to-day operation, and the electricity used to charge them has become increasingly clean as wind and solar continue their rapid ascent.

Second, EVs are simply better for local health. They emit virtually no health-threatening air pollutants, which contribute to around 2,000 deaths in the Twin Cities every year. And the advancements in EV technology make them an increasingly reliable option in Minnesota.

One of the pieces, not a silver bullet

Of course, getting personal electric vehicles to Minnesota dealerships is only one component of our broad need to tackle transportation emissions, in addition to building out our EV charging infrastructure around the state.

It’s also imperative that we work to reduce the total number of vehicle miles traveled by individuals. One person driving a single vehicle is the least efficient method of transportation, and we need to make alternatives not only available, but abundant.

  1. Expand and electrify public transit. In contrast, public buses and trains are a highly efficient and low-emitting method of getting people where they need to go. And agencies in the Twin Cities, Duluth and other areas are investing in clean, electric buses. But gaps in speed, reliability, and coverage are disincentivizing many people from using transit – we need to make investments in these systems so that more people can use them more easily.
  2. Make it easy and safe to bike and walk. The majority of all trips that people make in the United States are less than five miles long – about a 30 minute journey by bicycle. Almost a third are a mile or less. But most road networks in Minnesota were designed for ease of travel by car, making many roads dangerous for travel by bike or foot. Adding protected lanes and paths, sidewalks, and bike racks, and making sure they are cleared in winter, would help make people more comfortable with these modes of getting around.
  3. Make smart and healthy land use choices. In addition to roads, aspects of zoning and planning have constructed neighborhoods where destinations are difficult to reach by bike or by foot. Planning for more parks, grocery stores and other such community amenities closer to residents – in other words, mixed-use zoning – is a transportation solution.

Moving forward with clean cars

We thank all the Minnesotans who have spoken up for Clean Cars Minnesota and climate action in Minnesota, and we’re thrilled that our efforts are bearing fruit. And we need to continue to keep up the drumbeat.

The MPCA will begin collecting public input on this policy starting in October, and it’s important that we speak up to let them know this standard should be strong and ambitious to make sure we can reach our emissions goals.

And we need to help build momentum on the private sector side as well. We encourage Minnesotans in the market for a new vehicle to ask dealerships about their electric vehicle options to help demonstrate the demand for cleaner cars. This effort is a win-win for Minnesota’s environment and economy, and will help us work together to build a healthier state.

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