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'Clean Car' rule comes under fire during Minnesota Senate hearing

Republicans proposed a plan to strike the Walz administration standards and prevent the MPCA from limiting emissions in the future.

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Gov. Tim Walz, in Eden Prairie along with lawmakers, electric vehicle advocates and others, on Monday, July 26, 2021, marked the implementation of Minnesota's new "Clean Car" rule after a years-long fight to get the policy adopted.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — A state rule requiring auto manufacturers to make more electric and hybrid vehicles available in Minnesota would be rolled back before it could take effect under a Senate Republican bill advanced Wednesday, March 9.

A Senate environment and natural resources committee on a 4-3 vote approved a plan to block the state's "Clean Car" rule and prevent the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency from setting state vehicle emission limits.

The plan is the latest GOP rebuke to the Walz administration policy requiring auto manufacturers to make more fuel-efficient vehicles available in Minnesota beginning in 2024.

And while it's likely to hit a wall in the DFL-led House, Republican lawmakers said it was important to push back on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and its authority to make rules without the Legislature's OK.

"This has been an unconstitutional separation of powers and attempt to go around the Legislature," the bill's author, Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton, said. "The Legislature needs to rein it back in, which we're attempting to do."

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Andrew Mathews.jpg
Sen. Andrew Mathews

Since the introduction of the Clean Car standards in 2019, pollution control officials said the plan would help Minnesota 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. And they argued it could help put the state back in line with 2007 goals set in statute.

The MPCA held hearings around the state on the proposal and an administrative law judge last year approved it.

But the change has spurred years of tense debates at the Capitol about the state's role in moving the industry toward more fuel-efficient options.

Auto dealers and Republican lawmakers have argued that consumer demand should drive the market and that dealers shouldn't have to carry vehicles that might not be in high demand in their area.

Minnesotans from rural communities, spokespeople for conservative energy think tanks and GOP members of the committee on Wednesday voiced their frustration with the MPCA's process in rolling out the rule. And they supported the so-called "Consumer Choice of Fuel Act" provision that would prevent state agencies from restricting the cars, recreational vehicles, farm equipment or motorized equipment that Minnesotans can buy based on their fuel source.

Mathews said the MPCA could move to restrict other gas-powered equipment in the future and the bill could proactively prevent that.

Agency spokespeople said the MPCA had no intention of limiting access to other gas-powered devices or vehicles. And they maintained that the Clean Car rule was enacted through appropriate channels and would give Minnesotans more choices when buying a car.

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Democrats on the panel said the proposal took the wrong approach and would deny the agency options to curb carbon emissions in the future.

“I’m really concerned that we’re rehashing this when we all know where we need to go," Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth, said. "Minnesotans agree that we need these choices for Minnesotans about being able to go to the car dealership and being able to have the choice and the option to try out an electric vehicle."

MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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