The Aitkin County Board raised concerns Feb. 9 on the proposed new Clean Car Standards.

Brian Martinson, the Association of Minnesota Counties environmental and natural resources policy analyst, came to speak to the county board at its request.

The potential new standards, which are being drawn from California’s pollution control model, have created a great deal of discussion in Minnesota in the last year. Whether the standards can work in Minnesota and whether they need to be applied are among the questions being asked.

Martinson first outlined the timeline for the change if it takes place. Currently, there is a public comment period opening until March 15, and hearings before the Office of Administrative Hearing are set for Feb. 22-23.

If the standards are adopted, the plan is to finalize a rule by the end of this year. From there, there is a two-year federal waiting period, with the law being effective in 2024 - with the first model year  affected in 2025.

The law would involve low-emissions vehicles - regulated by tailpipe emissions from new light- and medium-duty vehicles only. Since 2012, all new vehicles  sold in the state have been LEV certified. The law would continue the requirement that all new vehicles meet the standard.

The law would also require more zero emission vehicles – like electric cars – be made available, with manufacturers having to meet quotas and credits given for selling these vehicles.

The rules will not apply to off-road, farming equipment or heavy-duty vehicles, used or existing vehicles and emergency vehicles. It also does not require anyone to purchase a new vehicle, emissions testing or eliminate SUVs or pickup trucks.

As an aside, any future rules proposed and adopted by California would not immediately apply here. However, once a federal standard goes into place, the state will have to follow one or the other in full.

Opponents to the new law include the Minnesota Trucking Association, the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, the Minnesota Charter Bus Association, the Minnesota Service Stations Association and the Minnesota Petroleum Marketers Association.

After Martinson finished his presentation, he listened to feedback from the board, admitting at the start, “I know commissioners here have some valid concerns.”

Commissioner Don Niemi pointed out the higher price associated with lower emission vehicles – about $1,100 more – and that the air quality in Minnesota is superior to California.

Commissioner Brian Napstad also raised concerns, especially with regard to rules that limit idling cars in Minnesota’s colder climate.

“They’re looking at changing behavior,” Napstad said. “Our legislature is ridiculously looking at forcing California behaviors on us.”

He also raised concerns that Minnesota seems to be following California and New York when it comes to new laws – using their rules as a template – and called them failing states.

“People are leaving them in droves,” he said.

Board Chair Mark Wedel raised several concerns, including that charging electric vehicles in Minnesota winters would be challenging – and that it is 90 miles from northern Aitkin County to southern.

“We all want clean water. We all want clean air,” he said. “But this is a rapidly growing issue.”

He also raised concerns that gas stations in the area could be “devastated” by the impact of zero emission vehicles.

Niemi added that there are 35 counties that are going to “attack this.” Wedel pointed out in addition that the economic impact would be felt across all counties in the state.

“It’s not unique,” he said.

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