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Minnesota can move ahead with Clean Cars program, judge says

She recommended the proposed rules be adopted.

The much-debated Cleans Cars Minnesota program cleared a significant hurdle Friday when an administrative law judge recommended the proposed rules be adopted.

The report, available here, highlights three key conclusions:

  • The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) did indeed establish it has the statutory authority to adopt the Clean Car rules.
  • The MPCA "complied with all procedural requirements of law and rule."
  •  The proposed rules are both "needed and reasonable."

"Therefore, the Administrative Law Judge APPROVES the proposed rules and recommends they be adopted," the order says.

The inception of Clean Cars Minnesota dates back to 2019, when Gov. Tim Walz directed the MPCA to begin a rulemaking process to adopt new standards for vehicle emissions.

As currently written, the rules would preserve currently existing standards regarding car emissions, and would also require dealerships to make more electric and hybrid vehicles available to purchase. These standards would not apply to existing or used vehicles, farm equipment or other heavy-duty vehicles. Nor would they mandate anyone purchase a hybrid or electric vehicle. 

Fresh Energy, which supports the Clean Car Minnesota rules, described Friday's update as "the last major hurdle to final adoption." Other environmental groups also celebrated the news. Conservation Minnesota said Minnesota is "officially set to become a clean car state."

And Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy climate policy analyst, Carolyn Berniger, in an email statement, said:

“Minnesota must do more to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and adopting the Clean Cars rule is a critical step to do so. All Minnesotans will benefit from a more stable climate, reduced air pollution, and improved access to electric vehicles."

Fourteen states and Washington D.C. have adopted these types of clean car standards. Friday's ruling positions Minnesota to be the first Midwestern state to take such a step.

Clean Cars Minnesota has faced considerable pushback from state Republicans. They have argued the Legislature, not the MPCA, is responsible for creating and enforcing these standards. 

Republicans say that it will increase the average price of new cars by $2,500, and while the Walz Administration concedes the rule will likely push the average price of new cars up, it will be closer to $1,000. It also argues those buying electric or more fuel-efficient vehicles would save more than that on gas, while electric car owners will also have reduced maintenance costs.

Earlier this week, the Senate GOP took the step of threatening to shut down of state parks, the DNR, the Minnesota Zoo, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and more, if the Clean Car Minnesota rules aren't rescinded.

Republicans have also argued that because Minnesota's Clean Cars rule is modeled on California's, the state would be beholden to any changes California makes.

But the MPCA has said any changes in California would start another rulemaking process with public input to consider the updates, rather than automatically matching the updates. 

According to Fresh Energy, the MPCA will review the judge's recommendation, then send the proposed rules to Walz for approval. It would be up to the MPCA commissioner to then sign them into effect.

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