Senate GOP threatens State Parks, DNR shutdown if 'Clean Cars' rule isn't scrapped

Republicans are willing to hold up the omnibus environment bill to stop the MPCA from enacting Clean Cars rules.
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Grand Portage State Park

Senate Republicans are threatening to block funding for things like Minnesota State Parks, the Minnesota DNR, the Minnesota Zoo and the Science Museum of Minnesota if the state's Clean Car emissions standard isn't removed. 

During a conference committee on the omnibus environment bill Tuesday, Sen. Bill Ingebrigsten, R-Alexandria, told committee members Republicans wouldn't pass the budget bill unless the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's (MPCA) rule-making on Clean Cars is stopped. 

That would mean the environmental arm of the state government would effectively shut down come July 1.

State Parks would be closed, fishing licenses wouldn't be available, there wouldn't be funding for the Minnesota Zoo, the Science Museum and several crucial state agencies that provide outdoor recreation for Minnesotans, regulate clean air and water, among other things, would be closed. 

To underscore what would happen if the bill doesn't get approval, Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-St. Paul, asked:

"So, just to be clear, if there's not a repeal of the authority for the clean car rule-making coming out of this conference committee, then the budgets for BWSR [Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources], the Minnesota Zoo, the LCCMR [Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources], the Conservation Corps, the Science Museum … the MPCA and the DNR will not happen, unless we accede to the Senate position, is that correct Sen. Ingebrigtsen?"

Ingebrigsten replied, "That's exactly correct."

Gov. Tim Walz had tasked the MPCA with enacting a Clean Cars rule, which is awaiting final approval from a judge.

It would require carmakers to deliver more lower-emissions vehicles to Minnesota for people to buy, believing if there are more options then more people will buy them. This would then help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. 

You can find an explanation of the Clean Cars rule here.

These rules have become known as "California car regulations" and dozens of states have passed similar rules. But Republicans and car dealers have criticized them, saying it'll increase the price of all new cars in Minnesota. The Walz Administration has said that prices of new cars will likely increase, though not by as much as the GOP claims.

Republicans have also said the Legislature should have authority over the rulemaking process, not the MPCA. 

"We're the only ones in the Midwest that's moving forward with this. It's very maddening for me and I think it is for a lot of folks," Ingebrigsten said during Tuesday's meeting.

Ingebrigsten criticized the MCPA, Gov. Walz and his administration for not being willing to compromise and work with Republican lawmakers on the rulemaking process, claiming Walz is the one who is actually holding up the funding for environmental programs and agencies. 

Ingebrigsten said he does hope they can come to a compromise and pass the bill.

The bill

The DFL-controlled House and GOP-controlled Senate each passed different versions of the omnibus environment bill and members from each chamber are now meeting in a conference committee to hammer out the differences between the two, which are millions of dollars apart in funding. 

The House's version would appropriate $371.9 million from the General Fund, while the Senate version would appropriate $317 million. The DNR's current budget from the General Fund for the 2020-21 biennium is $311.2 million.

According to Session Daily, Democrats say the House version would help address climate change, pollution, chronic wasting disease in deers, invasive species and racial and economic disparities. 

Republicans say the Senate version funds the state's environmental needs and supports State Parks, trails and tourism, while modifying "wasteful" regulations, Session Daily says. It also removes the MPCA's authority to enact clean car rules without the Legislature's approval. 

The Senate's version would cut millions in environmental funding on things like combating chronic wasting disease and declining pollinators, as well as cleaning up forever chemicals in the water supply.

You can see side-by-side comparisons of the two bills (the differences are highlighted) here.

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