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State parks, DNR get their funding — with no impact on the 'Clean Cars' rule

The Senate GOP had threatened to withhold environmental funding unless the rule was scrapped.

Minnesota's state parks, the Minnesota Zoo, the DNR and environmental state agencies will be funded in the upcoming budget — and the "Clean Cars" rule will move ahead as planned.

The House passed a compromise environment and natural resources budget bill Friday 99-34, just days after it was passed by the Senate 49-16. The bill includes about $1.6 billion in spending that funds Minnesota's state parks system, the Minnesota Zoo, the Department of Natural Resources, the Science Museum and various state agencies tasked with regulating the environment and providing outdoor recreation opportunities.

Just as notable, however, is what isn't included in the omnibus bill.

The Senate GOP had threatened to block environmental funding over its opposition to new clean car standards being enacted by Gov. Tim Walz, through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). 

Sen. Bill Ingebrigsten (R-Alexandria) told a committee in May that unless the clean cars rule was repealed, he was prepared to hold up environmental funding — resulting in a shut down of the above-mentioned programs and agencies.

That, however, did not happen.

Lawmakers have been hammering away at key state budget bills in recent weeks, with the goal of reaching compromises on various issues and passing the required bills before the July 1 deadline and its looming government shut down.

The environment and natural resources budget bill was described by both sides as a compromise, making it through the DFL-controlled House and GOP-controlled Senate. Members of both parties in the House acknowledged the green light for "Clean Cars" following Friday's passage.

The House, in a statement, said DFL lawmakers "fought to maintain our progress, recognizing that the standards will reduce pollution and protect the environment."

Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa), while acknowledging the funding for the "great outdoors," said: "Nevertheless, I remain disappointed that Democrats continue to force California's emissions standards on Minnesotans.”

The lone hurdle the bill has to clear is a signature from Gov. Tim Walz, at which point it will become law.

The discussion over "Clean Cars"

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. 

Fourteen states and Washington D.C. have adopted these types of clean car standards. Minnesota would 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.

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