Minnesota officially first clean cars state in the Midwest, with federal action coming soon

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Last Monday, the State of Minnesota officially adopted the Clean Cars rules proposed by the Pollution Control Agency under Governor Tim Walz. Starting in 2024, these rules will require Minnesota auto dealerships to make available a certain percentage of zero-emission electric vehicles on their lots.

The Clean Cars standards were originally adopted in California under an agreement with the federal government, with the option for other states to adopt these same protections. Since then, fifteen more states elected to do so, with Minnesota being the most recent and the first in the Midwest. These are not all warm-weather states like California, either – every New England state but New Hampshire has adopted the same standards.

The Trump Administration worked to halt states’ authority to adopt these rules and weaken emissions standards, but the Biden Administration has announced that it will reverse these rollbacks and push forward. On Thursday, President Biden set a target that 50% of all new vehicles sold by 2030 will be zero-emissions models. In addition, the Biden Administration is planning to roll out tighter emissions standards for all new vehicles nationwide.

Once it takes effect in 2025, the Minnesota Clean Cars rule will still be a useful backstop to ensure that more electric vehicle choices will be available to Minnesotans. Currently, the vast majority of EVs are going to states that have adopted Clean Car Standards, mostly in the Northeast or Pacific coast states. With the new Clean Cars rule in place, Minnesotans and our neighbors will be able to access these vehicles. Along with investments in charging stations across the state, EV adoption will be poised to take off dramatically.

Vehicle electrification is a crucial component of achieving the cuts to greenhouse gases we need to protect our climate. Transportation is the largest source of emissions in the nation and has gotten worse as Americans have trended toward buying SUVs, trucks, and vans rather than more efficient cars. Currently, EV models in America generate a third the emissions of fossil fueled vehicles, a number that will only improve as we transition to cheap, renewable electricity.

In some ways, the Clean Car transition is inevitable. Major automakers around the world are pledging to transition to all-electric vehicle lines, and in Norway – a country with a cold climate that outdated conventional wisdom would say is not ripe for EV adoption – EVs made up more than half of all new vehicle sales last year. The EV revolution is here, and we need it to go faster to protect our climate.

The Clean Cars process wasn’t easy, though. The GOP-controlled Minnesota Senate, spurred by the Auto Dealers Association, tried various tricks to kill the Clean Cars rulemaking, even threatening to shut down environmental agencies and state parks unless they got their way. Failing that, they retaliated by forcing the resignation of Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop, despite her moderate record. At the same time, they stonewalled other climate measures passed by the House, and Senate Majority Leader Gazelka pressured Bishop to approve permits for the Line 3 pipeline (see article below.)

But climate denial at the Legislature is being exposed as more and more out of touch as the costs of this crisis mount. As the drought deepened across the state, last Thursday saw the worst day for air quality in Minnesota’s history as smoke from the Canadian wildfires rolled across the entire state and affected millions of people, especially those with heart and respiratory conditions. There should be no more space for climate denial now that we can see and breathe this crisis.

We need much more and much bolder actions on emissions to protect the livability of our planet, especially relating to transportation. MEP will continue advocating for investments in public transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and a transition away from new road projects and highway expansions that don’t serve our future. But we’re proud that Minnesota is leading the way on Clean Cars in the Midwest, and we hope to see this transition get underway even faster.

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