EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota on Monday, July 26, became the first Midwestern state and 15th state in the nation to adopt "Clean Car" standards, paving the way for manufacturers to make more electric and hybrid vehicles available for sale.
The formal adoption of the rule came after a years-long fight that resulted in the ousting of a Walz administration commissioner and threatened to hold up a state budget deal. Gov. Tim Walz, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency leaders, lawmakers and advocates that supported the proposal on Monday gathered at an Eden Prairie thermal solution manufacturing company to tout the plan's implementation.
"Minnesotans certainly know that old adage 'You need to skate where the puck is going to be.' The puck is going to be in EV," Walz told reporters. "The question is what states are going to be ready when that puck arrives and Minnesota is now going to be the 15th state that is going to be there to do that."
Consumers won't see a change overnight since the rule won't formally take effect until January 2024, when 2025 model vehicles come onto the market. But state leaders said the change could encourage dealers to start preparing for more electric and hybrid options and private businesses to weigh rolling out more charging stations and related products around the state.
Once in place, the number of low-emission vehicle models available in the state could grow from 19 to 43, based on other states that have adopted the rules.
Walz and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 2019 put forth the proposed changes in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the state's top source of emissions: transportation. Roughly 25% of the heat-trapping gases that spur warming temperatures and more extreme weather events in the U.S. stem from cars and low-duty trucks.
Pollution control officials said the plan would help Minnesota reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And they argued it could help put the state back in line with 2007 goals set in statute. A bipartisan law at the time called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2015, 30% by 2025 and by 80% by 2050 as compared to 2005 levels. The state missed its 2015 goal and is not on track to meet its targets moving forward.
The plan's rollout was slowed by firm pushback from Minnesota auto dealers and Republican state lawmakers who argued that the rule would force dealers to take on electric and hybrid cars that might not sell in rural communities. In the months that followed, the MPCA held public listening sessions around the state to take in feedback on the rule and thousands submitted written comments before an administrative law judge approved the change.
After approving a $52 billion budget last month, the Minnesota Senate stayed in St. Paul to weigh the confirmation of a handful of commissioners, including then-MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop. But Bishop resigned when Senate leaders told Walz that Bishop's confirmation was expected to fail due to frustration about the "Clean Car" rule and other policies put in place during her tenure.
Walz and lawmakers on Monday noted Bishop's role in bringing the rule to fruition and thanked her for staying the course.
"She ultimately paid the ultimate price with her job for making this happen," Rep. Rick Hansen, D-South St. Paul, said. "At the end of the day, this is going to benefit everybody and whether we have some scars from this, whether it was difficult, it was challenging, it is worth it because it is an important step."
Auto dealers again voiced their opposition to the proposal's rollout on Monday. And Republican lawmakers deemed the move an overreach.
"Incentives and infrastructure are the proven way to get more electric vehicles on the road," Minnesota Auto Dealers Association President Scott Lambert said in a news release. "But the governor has done nothing regarding infrastructure and the California Rule is a pure supply mandate that does not address how to increase demand.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, echoed the comments and said the state wasn't ready for a new rule coming out of the pandemic. "Forcing electric vehicles onto car lots before consumers are demanding them will mean everyone pays more for their car: gas, electric, or hybrid," Gazelka said.
Walz said claims about requiring a certain stock of electric or hybrid vehicles at Minnesota dealers were inaccurate. And he said assertions about how the rule could adversely impact Minnesota car dealers and drivers hadn't come to fruition in other "Clean Cars" states.
"In the 14 other states, the sky did not fall, the car industry did not collapse, jobs were not lost, in fact, just the opposite happened," Walz said.