Plans to adopt California vehicle emission standards in Minnesota hit a bump in the road earlier this month.

The state Pollution Control Agency had aimed to publish an official notice of its intent to adopt the Clean Cars Minnesota program this month, opening a new public comment period. But it announced that the outbreak of the coronavirus here and the stay-at-home order accompanying it will push back the publication date, at least for now.

The new clean car standards proposed in Minnesota would 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 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.

The announcement of the delay came days after the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection announced it would effectively weaken federal emission guidelines established under President Barack Obama's administration. Gone will be the federal mandate for car manufacturers to improve fuel efficiency and emissions by 5% each year, replaced with one requiring only 1.5% improvement instead.

Proposed in late 2019, Minnesota's Clean Car program is intended to circumvent such a rollback. If adopted, it would require manufacturers to deliver cars for sale here that meet stricter emission guidelines first established in California.

Automakers would have to deliver a set number of low-emission and electric vehicles for sale in Minnesota under the state rule as well.

Despite the publication delay, the MPCA said it still plans to complete the approval process for the rule before the end of 2020. Even if that happens, the rule would not take effect until the start of 2023.

If and when Minnesota adopts the rule, it would be the eleventh state to do so. The federal government allows states to either follow its own emission guidelines or California's.

Matthew Guerry, Forum News Service, contributed to this story.