Senate holds environment budget hostage over Clean Cars, proposes rollbacks

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

On Tuesday, May 4, through the Chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, the Minnesota Senate issued an ultimatum on the state’s environmental budget, seeking to end the Clean Cars rulemaking currently underway by the Walz Administration.  In an exchange in the Legislature’s Environment Omnibus Bill Conference Committee, Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) told House Environment Lead Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul.) that the Senate will not pass a budget bill for numerous environmental programs unless the bill also repeals the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) authority to enact Clean Cars standards.

The Senate has also included numerous bad policy provisions that would rollback environmental protections across the state. Meanwhile, as we wrote in April, the House’s proposed environment bill would benefit soil health, ban harmful pesticides on many state lands, and require environmental justice to be considered in permitting for large industrial projects. (Read our letter to the conference committee on the good and bad language the two houses are considering.)

If the House and Senate cannot pass a negotiated budget bill successfully, it would result in a shutdown for beloved and critical Minnesota programs and agencies, including:

  • State Parks
  • Department of Natural Resources
  • Pollution Control Agency
  • Board of Water and Soil Resources
  • Numerous projects funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund

It would also cut critical state funding for:

  • Minnesota Zoo
  • Minnesota Science Museum
  • Minnesota Conservation Corps

The Senate’s grandstanding, along with its proposed rollbacks, come at a time when climate action is more urgent than ever, when most of Minnesota’s waters are classified as impaired by the MPCA, and when our pollinators are in steep decline. What’s more, opposing climate action is not a popular position – a new poll from our partners at MN350 shows that two-thirds of Minnesotans consistently favor bold climate action in our state. And even shutting down Minnesota’s state park system – which averages nearly 10 million visitors per year – would result in real economic harm and deprive families of recreation. There is no mandate for cutting environmental protections and activities.

The nonsensical opposition to Clean Cars

The Senate has presented several arguments against Clean Cars to try to justify its position, but none of them hold water. There’s the usual falsehood that it would prevent Minnesotans from purchasing gas-powered vehicles – the rule would simply make more electric vehicles available at dealerships and improve emissions standards for other vehicles. It will also be phased in over several years, giving ample time for adjustment.

Some also say that this kind of regulation is the job of the Legislature, but an Administrative Law Judge ruled on Friday that the MPCA has full authority to enact these rules to protect air quality. Given the Senate’s regrettable record on climate action and the urgent need for cuts to transportation emissions, we’d love to see them come up with alternative solutions that move us forward at the pace and scale needed. There has been plenty of time, but the Clean Cars rule just can’t wait. 

The argument that Minnesota should not allow California to dictate our regulations is also thrown around frequently, but usually leaves out the fact 13 other states have already enacted these standards. It’s true that Minnesota would be the first state in the Midwest to enact these standards, but not the first state to experience cold winters – Colorado, Maine, and Vermont have already done so. And as car companies make more and more ambitious EV pledges and the federal government promises to build more charging stations, getting ahead of the game will benefit Minnesota economically and environmentally. While much stronger action on transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and electric vehicle charging is needed, Clean Cars is a win-win for our state.

Ultimately, the Senate’s ultimatum pits the interests of polluting companies, car dealers who oppose these standards (and do not speak for their entire industry), and those who refuse to recognize climate science against the programs Minnesotans expressly care about. The people of Minnesota have shown through polling, supporting multiple constitutional amendments, and exploring our great outdoors that we want our environment restored and protected, not held hostage in a fight over long overdue electric vehicle rules. MEP and our allies will continue fighting against rollbacks on behalf of Minnesotans this session.

What you can do: Use our action system to contact Minnesota’s legislative leaders and urge them to pass an environment budget that helps the environment, supports climate action, and keeps our public recreation open.

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