Minnesota's push to adopt the Midwest's first zero-emission vehicle mandate to boost the supply of electric vehicles for sale has automobile dealers and defiant Senate Republicans on the attack.
The Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association has sued the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) over its proposed clean car rule. State Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have threatened to again try to strip the state regulator of its rule-making authority with respect to auto emissions.
Neither move is likely to cut the cord on Minnesota's clean cars initiative. The proposed rule requiring automakers to supply Minnesota with more new electric vehicles to sell is a keystone of Gov. Tim Walz's push to slash the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.
Transportation — particularly passenger vehicles — is now the state's No. 1 source of global warming emissions. Minnesota has not been hitting its emission reduction goals.
The proposed zero-emissions vehicle rule is open for public input until mid-March. An administrative hearing is set for Feb. 22-23.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, said he doesn't think Minnesota should be adopting standards from California, a state "1,700 miles away."
"This one we vehemently disagree with," Ingebrigtsen said. "Our caucus is willing to stand and fight very hard for this."
Ingebrigtsen said they tried and failed to negotiate a moratorium with the Walz administration. As a result, he said, Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton, is expected this month to reintroduce legislation that was brought last year to repeal the MPCA's rule-making authority.
Ingebrigtsen said he hasn't read through the auto dealers complaint but fundamentally agrees with the premise: "If nothing else, it's going to slow the process down."
The lawsuit, filed by the state Automobile Dealers Association last week in federal court in Minnesota, alleges that Minnesota lacks the authority to regulate motor vehicle emissions. Minnesota's move is illegal, it argues, because the administration of President Donald Trump revoked California's waiver under the Clean Air Act to set its own stricter vehicle emissions.
The new rule will harm Minnesota auto dealers, the lawsuit says, "tie up dealer capital and financing capacity" and push dealers to carry unpopular zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) models instead of what consumers want. "In Minnesota, those vehicles are overwhelmingly non-ZEV, full-size pickups and SUVs," according to the lawsuit.
The new zero-emission vehicle mandate would require automakers — not dealers — to supply more of two kinds of passenger vehicles: traditional low-emission vehicles that meet emissions standards in place before the rollbacks under the Trump administration, and zero-emission vehicles that include plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, battery or "completely" electric vehicles and hydrogen-fueled vehicles. The rule applies to new passenger vehicles, not older ones or heavy-duty trucks, and it doesn't require anything of consumers.
At a media briefing Monday in support of the new rule, Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, appealed to his colleagues across the aisle to work together to support the rule.
"My feeling is that as Clean Cars Minnesota gets the attention of more Minnesotans, the truth will bubble to the surface," Frentz said.
Joy Anderson, an attorney at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said she thinks the dealers' lawsuit will fail. There is litigation over the status of California's waiver, she said, and she expects the new Biden administration will make clear that California has the authority to set a standard that other states can follow.
Michael Noble, executive director of the nonprofit Fresh Energy, said the state's new rule "cements Minnesota's position as the leading state in the Midwest on vehicle electrification and decarbonizing our transportation system."
The dealers' lawsuit came just days before General Motors unveiled its modern new logo and "Everybody In" marketing campaign to support the Detroit automaker's shift to electric vehicles. GM plans to release 30 new battery-powered vehicles by the end of 2025, including the Hummer EV pickup due out by the end of the year.
In making the announcement, GM issued a statement in which Global Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl called the moment an inflection point in history: "We believe such a point is upon us for the mass adoption of electric vehicles."
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683