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Clean cars: Think clean air long-term

On March 19, this paper editorialized in opposition to cleaner car legislation that would require new cars to have lower carbon emissions, creating cleaner air for all of us.

I'd like to offer a different view: one in favor of cleaner cars, cleaner air and a better future for our children.

In mid-February -- Minnesota conservation groups including the Minnesota Environmen-tal Partnership -- representing in sum nearly a half million Minnesotans -- were joined by a Minnesota independent car dealer at a news conference in front of the Minnesota State Capitol to generate support for clean cars.

The key message of that independent auto dealer, Ric Fohrman of AutoPoint, Ltd., as printed by the Star Tribune, was that we can have a robust American car manufacturing industry, profitable dealerships, employed United Auto Workers, and cleaner air by adopting Clean Car Standards.

It is simply not true that removing trucks, minivans and SUVs off showroom floors is the only way that California standards can be met. Truck, minivan and SUV models already available that meet the standards include Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks when running on E85, the Chevrolet Uplander, Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, Buick Terraza, Saturn Relay, and GMC Yukon. Cars that meet the standards include models produced by Pontiac, Chevrolet, Dodge, Saturn, Ford and Toyota. These are not exotic imports that your local auto dealership will not be able to find.

There will never be a required shift in the vehicle fleet away from trucks. First, the standards are structured with separate requirements for different vehicle classes: passenger cars, small light duty trucks, large light duty trucks and SUVs. Trucks over 8,500 pounds are not subject to the standards. Second, manufacturers meet the standards not by individual model but collectively across their entire fleet of vehicles -- meaning that a manufacturer may make no changes to one particular model and still meet the standards because of changes to other vehicles within its fleet.

So let's look at the bigger picture: the Clean Car initiative will make new cars, trucks, mini-vans and SUVs even better and it will make them better sooner. This will be good for auto dealerships and in my opinion, good for Minnesota's economy as a whole. And, we can all recognize that it's good for cleaner air and reduces global warming pollution.

The Clean Car legislation now before the Minnesota Legislature would require car manufacturers to lower carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants from passenger vehicle tailpipes, beginning with new cars delivered in 2016.

A dozen states have already adopted the cleaner car standards and eight others are considering the change. States already adopting these standards represent 40 percent of America's car-buying consumers. Aside from reducing pollution and cleaning up our air, Minnesota should adopt these clean car standards to show Detroit and Washington that the Midwest also wants our country moving forward toward energy independence.

Although the U.S. Congress passed a federal energy law in 2007, which included improvements in fuel efficiency, the proposed Minnesota Cleaner Cars legislation will reduce global warming gases from vehicles by twice as much as the federal law, by 2016.

Finally, this cleaner car legislation will not hurt our ethanol industry. Minnesota lawmakers have made sure of that. This legislation will not affect Minnesota's effort to double the ethanol content of Minnesota's gasoline blend. The federal government anticipated that different states will have different ethanol blends. These blends do not restrict what car and truck manufacturers may sell, nor does it cause a compliance liability issue for the manufacturers. If anything, the cleaner car standards create additional incentives for ethanol use by providing credit to manufacturers for the use of E85, E10, or E20 in vehicles.

I care about the future of our state: our lakes, rivers and streams, clean air, and yes, a prosperous economy. I want to protect Minnesota's future and I believe one of the smartest ways to do that is to adopt the clean car standards.

This is not a radical idea. It's a transitional step -- and a step in the right direction -- that will be good for our Great Outdoors and Minnesota families in the long term.

(Sue Trnka is field organizer for Minnesota Environmental Partnership in Ada.)