A state effort to jump-start Minnesota's nascent market for electric vehicles and cut greenhouse gas emissions has reached a critical milestone.
The state's official notice of intent to adopt the clean car rule for new cars will be published Monday in the State Register. If adopted, Minnesota would join California, Colorado and about eight other states in requiring automakers to deliver more makes and models of zero-emission electric vehicles to dealership lots.
By one count, Minnesota dealerships had fewer than 300 electric vehicles on hand for people to choose from.
Briefing reporters on the move Friday, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop called the proposed rule a bold climate change move. The state needs to use every available tool to cut emissions, she said, and amping up the shift to electric vehicles is crucial.
"Minnesotans want that choice," Bishop said. "They want to be able to find those vehicles."
Bishop related her own experience last year of looking for a Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid — and finding instead a flippant salesperson.
"The dealer told me that you could not get those in Minnesota because they're supplying them to the smog states," she said.
Low-income and racially diverse communities will experience the greatest air quality benefits from the rule, she said, because they are disproportionately exposed to vehicle pollution.
Transportation is now Minnesota's largest producer of the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. The state needs to slash them to get back on track with emission reduction targets.
Minnesota missed a key target in the state's 2007 Next Generation Energy Act to cut greenhouse gas emissions 15% from 2005 levels by 2015. The state will also likely miss the next target of cutting emissions 30% by 2025.
More than half the state's transportation emissions come from passenger cars, sport-utility vehicles and pickups, the MPCA said.
The formal legal announcement starts a new public comment period. The MPCA also plans to hold four online information sessions in January and February, and a two-day administrative hearing is set for Feb. 22-23.
If adopted, the rule won't take effect until at least January 2024.
It would require automakers to supply more traditional low-emission vehicles that meet emissions standards in place before the rollbacks under the Trump administration, and supply more zero emission vehicles, called ZEVs, which include plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, battery or "completely" electric vehicles and hydrogen-fueled vehicles. It doesn't affect heavy-duty trucks.
The state's program would be similar to California's ZEV program, which has become a model, though Minnesota's rule language was guided by Colorado's.
Bishop said that all the state programs were adopted by rule-making, as opposed to going through the Legislature. She said she has heard support from Minnesota lawmakers as well as some concerns about the rule-making process.
Minnesotans for Clean Cars, a coalition of environmental groups, praised the MPCA's move as "vital." Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy MN, said that moving forward with clean car standards "creates additional business opportunities, expanded choice for consumers and lower greenhouse gas emissions. That is a triple benefit for all Minnesotans."
Opponents, including House Republicans and the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, condemned the move. In a joint statement, House Republicans accused the MPCA of bypassing the Legislature with a program that they said will drive up vehicle prices by as much as $2,500.
"The Walz administration is making cars more expensive and forcing auto dealers to accept cars and take up inventory with vehicles that many rural Minnesotans simply aren't buying," said state Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, in the statement. "Minnesotans don't need California's extreme auto standards forced down our throats."
The MPCA said the program doesn't regulate dealers, just automakers. It said that while upfront costs may rise a small amount, they would be more than offset by reduced fuel savings and/or maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle.
Jukka Kukkonen, strategist at utility consultancy Shift2Electric, said the dearth of electric vehicles for sale greatly affects demand. Many Minnesotans don't consider vehicles that aren't sitting on the lot, he said.
Kukkonen said he surveyed electric vehicles for sale about two weeks ago and found about 296 in Minnesota. Nearly 60% of them were just two models, either the Chevrolet Bolt all-electric or the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid.
Unlike shoppers in Europe, U.S. shoppers expect a dealer to have something available for them, he said. Salespeople won't even try to sell something that's not on the lot, he said.
"We definitely need this," Kukkonen said.
Pam Kiely, director of regulatory strategy at the Environmental Defense Fund, called the new rule important but said the program will have "a pretty surgical benefit" over the next decade. States need to go further, she said, and adopt even tougher emission reduction goals.
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683