Legislative committee passes tough auto emission standardsby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota is one step closer to adopting California's aggressive emissions standards for cars and tr On Thursday a bill passed the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.
The California rules require manufacturers to make new cars that put out 30 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions by 2016.
St. Paul, Minn. — California laid out the ambitious standards in 2002. More than a dozen states have adopted the standards, covering nearly half the U.S. population.
But last year the Environmental Protection Agency refused to give California a waiver from federal rules, to allow the measure to take effect.
California and several other states -- including Minnesota -- are now in court appealing that decision. Advocates say they're confident the states will win.
Governor Pawlenty's task force on climate change recommended that Minnesota consider adopting the standards, but there was considerable disagreement about the idea.
Now DFL Rep. Melissa Hortman from Brooklyn Park has introduced the measure at the legislature. Hortman says the standards would not only help Minnesota reduce its carbon footprint, they would save drivers money.
"Even though automakers and the California Air Resources Board estimate there could be an increased cost in purchasing of a new car, the amount of money that a consumer will save over the life of the car will more than make up for that."
Hortman and other advocates say the reduced emissions would come from existing technologies like improved transmissions, electric rather than mechanical pumps, turbocharging, and improved air conditioning fluids.
But representatives of the auto industry spoke out sharply against the measure.
Scott Lambert is with the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association. He says Minnesotans buy more trucks than cars, and he says the only way manufacturers can meet the standards would be to sell fewer trucks, SUVs and mini-vans.
"If Ford stops giving F-150s to a dealer because too many F-150s push them over the standards, in Willmar, in Fergus Falls and in Grand Rapids, you can only sell so many Focuses. The trucks are the market there."
But the California standards allow lower standards for trucks, so advocates say an entire fleet of trucks could still meet the standards.
Several committee members, including chair Kent Eken, asked the auto industry representatives why it was taking the industry so long to gear up to address climate change. Eken reminded Greg Dana, from the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers, how quickly Detroit converted from cars to tanks during World War II.
"It seems that the innovation was incredible, and the speed at which industry in this country could move was incredible. Is one of the things you're saying is that our industry has lost its ability to change that quickly and meet crisis at a moment's notice?"
Greg Dana responded:
"I submit to you that in the last five years we've started developing plug-in hybrids, we've got a lot of technologies we're implementing today and the next five years or so. We spend more money than any other industry on research and development. We pioneer a lot of what technology is developed in this country."
Nevertheless, Dana said the California standards are too challenging.
Other committee members wondered whether the standards would apply to snowmobiles or all terrain vehicles or airplanes -- they won't.
And they worried about Minnesota moving ahead of neighboring states and making itself uncompetitive.
Denny McNamara, Republican from Hastings, offered an amendment saying the law wouldn't take effect in Minnesota until all neighboring states enacted the same law. That amendment failed.
But the biggest worry was about turning over Minnesota's decision-making to bureaucrats in California.
Representative Tom Hackbarth, Republican from Cedar, said tying Minnesota to California's rules, including future decisions by the California Air Resources Board, is a bad idea.
"We're talking about an 11-member panel in California, that's going to be regulating the state of Minnesota. That's not the way to operate in our state. I don't think our legislature wants to give away that kind of authority," said Hackbarth.
In the end, enough members of this committee were willing to go with the California rules. The committee passed the measure, ten to seven. Bill author Melissa Hortman said she'd work with others to put what she called "comfort language" in the bill, so Minnesota could opt out of the California rules in the future.
Now it heads to the Government Operations Committee.
- Morning Edition, 02/15/2008, 7:20 a.m.