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'Clean cars' emissions standards

Published (2/22/2008)
By Nick Busse
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A House committee approved a bill that would adopt California’s aggressive “clean cars” vehicle emissions standards for Minnesota.

HF863, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), would enact California’s policy, which is designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light-duty trucks 30 percent by 2016. The House Environment and Natural Resources Committee approved the bill Feb. 14 after amending it with some technical changes.

“Under federal law, you have two choices: you have California or the federal standard,” Hortman said, summarizing a complicated and decades-long series of legal maneuvers that have resulted in states being able to opt for either the entire federal standards or the entire California standards, but not parts of both.

More than a dozen other states have already adopted the California standards, which the auto industry opposes. Hortman said the measure is a necessary step forward in reaching the state’s goal of a comprehensive climate change strategy, as outlined in last year’s Next Generation Energy Act.

The new standards would apply to all new passenger vehicles model 2009 and later that are sold or registered in the state. Automakers could use any combination of a number of existing technologies to reduce emissions. However, the standards are currently being challenged in court by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Representatives of the auto industry warned that the California standards could hurt Minnesota’s ethanol industry as well as raise the price of new vehicles. Greg Dana, a lobbyist for the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers, called the standards “too aggressive, too soon,” and added that E-85 and flex-fuel vehicles were unlikely to be able to meet the standards.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar) was among several committee members who expressed concern about what they saw as ceding control of environmental policy in Minnesota to the California Air Resources Board, which has the power to change the standards at will.

The bill awaits action by the House Governmental Operations, Reform, Technology and Elections Committee. A Senate companion, SF481, sponsored by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

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