The new clean car standards proposed in Minnesota will have a major impact on Minnesota car dealerships. At least that is what Scott Lambert believes.

Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, visited with members of the Alexandria Sertomans recently and explained what could happen if Minnesota adopts California’s emission standards. He predicts:

  • The price of all new cars in the state will increase from $800 to $2,500 per vehicle.

  • Dealers could only trade for California cars.

  • Fewer trucks would be delivered to Minnesota.

  • Dealerships would be stuck with electric inventory they couldn't move.

  • It would be regulated by a group of people not accountable to anyone in Minnesota.

He said Gov. Tim Walz is abdicating responsibility for the air in Minnesota to Mary Nichols from the California Air Resources Board – an unelected board accountable only to the governor of California who appoints its members.

In addition, he said that the California board would be in control and in charge of the dealership industry.

“This will happen unless people say they don’t want it,” said Lambert. “We need to convince the governor it’s a bad idea.”

Lambert said California has bad air. In fact, he said there are 148 areas of non-attainment, which means below federal ambient air quality standards. In Minnesota, he said, there are none.

And because of California’s bad air quality, the federal government had to give the state special rules.

Minnesota air is just fine, he said, adding it shouldn’t have to have special rules.

Stricter emissions

In September of last year, Walz asked the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to write rules requiring auto manufacturers that sell in the state to deliver more electric and hybrid vehicles. This follows California’s effort to set stricter emission standards for cars than the federal government.

Environmental advocacy groups, health, agriculture, business officials and Democratic lawmakers applauded the move.

“The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that 15% of all respiratory-related emergency room visits are attributable to dirty air,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis in support of the new standards. He said they would drastically improve air quality in all parts of the state.

Conservative groups and Republican state lawmakers said it would drive up the cost of larger vehicles. This session, Republican legislators introduced a bill that would halt it and curb the agency's power to regulate vehicle emissions.

MPCA spokesperson Mary Robinson said that if the rule change is implemented, dealers would still be able to trade for cars across state lines because California's low-emission vehicle standard, or LEV, is essentially identical to the federal greenhouse gas emission standard.

That could change if the state and federal standards were ever to diverge.

Administrative decision

Republican senators who passed the bill challenging state regulators' ability to set stricter motor vehicle emission regulations said that they did not oppose more stringent emission standards. But if they are to be adopted, they said, it should be through the legislative process.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, also felt the MPCA’s rulemaking authority circumvents the Legislature and such action should not be done as an administrative mandate. In a press release earlier this month, he stated that Greater Minnesota residents will be adversely affected.

“Gov. Walz championed the concept of ‘One Minnesota’ as he ran for office, but his administrative policies since have been anything but that. This proposal unfairly targets residents in the rural part of the state, burdening them because they use trucks for their work or because they live a bit further outside of town,” Ingebrigtsen said.

“Furthermore, people in my district do not want to be compared, in any fashion, to California.”

Fourteen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted California's tougher standards on emissions. Minnesota would be the first state in the Midwest to adopt the rules.

The standards are set to be rolled out in about 18 months following a set of public hearings put on by the MPCA. And it is estimated that the goal could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 2 million tons over the next decade.

Minnesotans won't see an impact right away, but beginning for vehicles in Model Year 2023 and beyond, the number of low-emission vehicle models available in the state could grow from 19 to 43, based on other states that have adopted the rules.

Dana Ferguson, Forum News Service, contributed to this story.