Currently underway, Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) are attempting to adopt California’s Zero Emission Vehicle program through a rule-making process, while bypassing Minnesota’s Legislature. This new rule would limit consumer choice, while raising costs on Minnesota’s residents.
In effect, “Clean Cars Minnesota” would require automobile dealers to maintain higher inventory of electric and other lower-emitting vehicles beginning in 2024, with the intent of reducing the impact of climate change and improving air quality in the state.
The goal of limiting emissions from transportation sources is certainly laudable and consistent with the objective of mitigating our community’s impact on the environment by reducing the output of greenhouse gasses. However, a complex bureaucracy and another government mandate are completely unnecessary and likely counterproductive to achieving this goal.
For example, advancements in technology and the improving economics of hybrid and electric vehicles are compelling to buyers who are already choosing those vehicles, absent any government interference. Data shows that from 2018 to 2019, registrations of electric vehicles in Minnesota nearly doubled. The range between charges continues to grow, making electric vehicles a much more attractive alternative for consumers. From a financial standpoint, the long-term savings on fuel cost offsets the higher initial purchase price.
Manufacturers are clearly committed to dramatically improving the technology of electric vehicles and hybrid cars and trucks. General Motors, for example, is making these alternatively fueled vehicles a cornerstone of their future business model. Many other manufacturers have similar plans.
The infrastructure for charging vehicles, at home and in public places, is rapidly improving and becoming more affordable. Many electric utility companies are offering reduced rates to encourage the powering of vehicles overnight when electric loads are minimal, prices are low, and capacity is plentiful.
Demand is driving the increased production of electric vehicles and the gradual expansion of charging facilities. Complex governmental regulations that are issued through decree by unelected bureaucrats are neither necessary nor appropriate. Instead, we should focus on policy alternatives that are market-oriented and adopted through a process which allows voters to have a say.
Informing consumers about the economic and environmental advantages of hybrid and plug-in technology is an important first step. More progress can be made in the state Legislature by providing grants to businesses, faith communities, schools, and other institutions for additional public vehicle charging stations. Local governments may also help by adding charging stations at public parking facilities, public buildings, state and county parks and other locations. This transition will be more effective if it takes place voluntarily, not through government mandate.
The MPCA should not surrender Minnesota’s environmental options to California regulators. Rapidly progressing technology, along with education and incentives, are already increasing the demand for hybrid and electric vehicles more effectively than complex bureaucracy and intrusive mandates ever could. In other words, electric vehicles are commercially viable and competitive without a government directive. While we can all support cleaner air and a greener energy future, “Clean Cars Minnesota” is not the way to accomplish that goal.
Dan McElroy is a former Commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and previously served in the Minnesota House of Representatives.