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Record Editorial: Minnesota doesn't need California's clean car standards

Minnesota lawmakers should put the brakes on a proposal to adopt the California clean car standards for Minnesota.

Six weeks ago, a group appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to outline how Minnesota can meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals recommended adopting the tougher California standards instead of the existing, weaker federal requirements. The California rules require car and light-truck manufacturers to produce vehicles, beginning in 2011, that cut emissions contributing to global warming by 30 percent by 2016, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Bills to that effect were introduced in the state Senate and House.

Supporters, including the Sierra Club and the St. Paul-based Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, say the state needs to take quick action to fight global warming, and the California standards would cut twice the amount of greenhouse gases produced by cars in Minnesota.

New federal rules require automakers to make vehicles that average 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The California standards require the same thing, four years sooner.

The legislation would hurt the state's automobile industry and result in fewer choices and higher prices for consumers, said Scott Lambert, executive vice president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, who was in Detroit Lakes Tuesday.

He said a tougher state standard would limit consumer choices, making many models unavailable in Minnesota and would make dealer trades in and out of Minnesota impossible.

And it would seriously damage the state's ethanol industry, since flex fuel vehicles (those that run on E-85) cannot meet California's tough emission standards and automakers can't get credit toward their CO2 fleet coverage with vehicles that use E-85 --because the vehicles also run on gasoline.

Minnesota would be making a mistake to allow appointed California officials -- the 11-member California Air Resources Board -- to make decisions for Minnesotans.

The California standards were established for that state. Minnesotans are more likely to drive light trucks and SUVs, but removing trucks, minivans and SUVs off the showroom floor is the only way California standards can be met, Lambert said.

Dan Sauvageau, owner of Norseman Motors, is concerned that adopting the California standards would cause problems similar to those of the early 1980s, when federal mileage standards made some vehicles hard to find, and prices went up accordingly.

"It's a tough law," he said. "Everybody wants to help out the environment, but it goes too far, too fast."

We agree. There are too many unanswered questions and perhaps unintended consequences that go with this bill.