Zero emissions vehicle mandate unpopular
Leaders from across the state have gathered to refine the Climate Action Framework.
Among the plan’s most controversial topics? The zero emissions vehicle mandate authored by Gov. Tim Walz’s administration, a measure intended to meet the framework’s aggressive goal of cutting greenhouse gases in transportation by 30% by 2025 and by a total of 80% by 2050. Under Walz’s plan, auto dealers would be forced to stock more electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, limiting consumer choice and replacing at least some percentage of vehicles that could be powered by the state’s abundant ethanol.
By almost any measure, Walz’s zero emissions vehicle mandate is wildly unpopular. A recent survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found the creation of a strategic electric vehicle plan the second-lowest priority for the state. More than two-thirds of respondents said Walz’s goals for emissions reduction and electric car and light truck inventories on Minnesota car lots go too far. The same percentage said Walz’s goal to decrease vehicle miles was excessive.
Walz’s plan isn’t very popular with auto dealers either. Recently, the state’s association of auto dealers filed a lawsuit to overturn the requirements established by the governor, a mandate that would force them to fill about a quarter of their stock with electric vehicles, or about three times as many as have been registered in Minnesota since 2011. In their lawsuit, the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association argues that Walz can’t enforce such mandates without the approval of lawmakers.
It’s easy to see why the vehicle mandate is so unpopular. It’s also easy to see why state lawmakers are eager to replace Walz’s plan with something more fitting for Minnesota, as opposed to blindly following California’s vehicle rules. Minnesota House of Representatives Leader Kurt Daudt, for example, has offered the Minnesota Consumer Choice of Fuel Act (HF 3206), a bill that would repeal the governor’s cars mandate and allow the Minnesota marketplace to decide what vehicles auto dealers offer.
Leader Daudt's bill recognizes that Minnesota’s market differs significantly from California’s, with Minnesotans buying vastly more pick-up trucks and SUVs. We also aren’t plagued by the same air quality issues as California, meaning there is less cause for the radical measures Walz is attempting to put in place. Added to those reasons for the bill is the fact that the Walz administration’s own assessment estimates the price tag of his vehicle mandate at $1,139 more per vehicle. What’s more, Minnesotans continue to have valid concerns about the range of electric vehicles in cold weather and a lack of charging stations.
It’s not just cars and trucks in Walz’s sights either. All combustion engines are targeted, including snowmobiles, of which there are 220,000 registered in Minnesota. With snowmobiling creating about a billion dollars annually in economic impact, the state would be foolish to limit customer choice and endanger a pastime that provides high-quality recreation and tremendous economic benefits. Under the Minnesota Consumer Choice of Fuel Act, consumers would be free to buy whatever kind of snowmobile they wish.
The bill also protects Minnesota’s critical ethanol industry, one that could be jeopardized if a state mandate favors electric vehicles over ones powered by low-carbon biofuels. As the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association has pointed out, we don’t have to choose between biofuels and electric vehicles. Both can be part of the future and part of a comprehensive solution to reduce greenhouse emissions.
The truth is that Minnesota doesn’t need Walz’s mandate for a lower-emission future. Data shows that electric vehicle adoption has demonstrated some incremental progress, even in Minnesota.
Minnesotans have spoken clearly that they don’t want the kind of vehicle mandate the governor is trying to force on consumers. Soon, they’ll have another chance to voice their displeasure at the polls. In the meantime, it's time state lawmakers act on the Minnesota Consumer Choice of Fuel Act, a better alternative to lowering emissions that relies on the power of competition, not an unnecessary mandate.
Swedzinski (R-Ghent) is the lead Republican on the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee.