More electric vehicles could soon be for sale on Minnesota car lots after an administrative law judge ruled Friday that the Walz administration can set new emissions standards without the OK of lawmakers.
The ruling by Judge Jessica Palmer-Denig clears the way for state regulators to adopt the new "clean car" rules that would require manufacturers to deliver more electric vehicles and hybrids to the state. It does not, however, resolve a standoff with Republican lawmakers that could still upend the administration's plans.
Republican lawmakers have opposed the new standards since Gov. Tim Walz first announced plans in 2019 to have the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) adopt them. Nearly two dozen Republican state senators and auto dealers from around the state argued to Palmer-Denig that new emissions standards should come from the Legislature, not the MPCA.
But the agency has clear authority to adopt rules that address air pollution, Palmer-Denig wrote.
It's unclear exactly when the rules will go into effect.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said this week that his caucus will shut down the state's environmental arm, including state parks, by not passing an environmental budget this year unless Walz and the MPCA back down on the new rules.
The ruling Friday does not change that stance, Ingebrigtsen said during a brief committee meeting."Frankly, I don't think anybody questions if it was legal for the governor to move forward," he said. "But that does not alter the power of the Legislature to adopt a position on them."
Ingebrigtsen said he is asking Walz to agree to ban the MPCA from adopting new emissions standards for the next two years.
The ruling puts Minnesota in a better position to join more than a dozen other states that have enacted similar standards, said Darin Broton, an MPCA spokesman. "Minnesota's clean car standards are a common-sense way we can support innovation and clean technology jobs while fostering a better climate and giving consumers more choice."
The standards aim to help drive down heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by requiring automakers to increase deliveries of electric vehicles for sale to Minnesota. Walz directed the MPCA to develop the rule as part of his emphasis on addressing climate change and the need to cut global warming gases.
Minnesota would be the first Midwestern state to adopt the standards, which were written by the state of California. The federal Clean Air Act allows states to either follow the federal standards for vehicle emissions or California's stricter rules. States cannot write their own.
Environmental groups and electric vehicle advocates praised the ruling Friday, saying it will help Minnesota catch up to goals to cut greenhouse gases. "From clean air and water to healthier communities to more consumer choice, clean car standards will benefit everyone as Minnesota moves toward a clean energy future," said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, an organization that promotes carbon-neutral energy.
The ruling affirmed the authority and the process Walz's administration took to enact the rules, said state Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul. "What the governor has done is sound," he said.
The new emission standards won't go into effect until at least January 2024, following a federally required two-year waiting period.
Friday's ruling was not surprising, said Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, which unsuccessfully sued the MPCA to block the standards.
But with tens of thousands of comments submitted during the process, and fears the car dealers will be stuck with unpopular cars, the Legislature should have had a say in the decision, he said.
To get more electric vehicles on the road, lawmakers need to build more charging stations or help buyers financially, Lambert said.
"Instead, they have chosen to abdicate decisions about Minnesota's vehicle offerings to California and are instituting a policy that leaves Minnesota dealers bearing the financial risk," he said.
Staff writer Jennifer Bjorhus contributed to this report.
Greg Stanley • 612-673-4882