Legislature defeats clean car billby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
The idea of adopting California's rules to limit greenhouse gases from cars and trucks appears dead for this legislative session. A Senate committee defeated the measure Thursday, but advocates say they'll be back next year.
St. Paul, Minn. — A dozen states have signed on to California's rules, and environmental groups were hoping Minnesota would join them. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it won't happen this year.
The proposal got off to a running start in the House, where it passed several committees, and eventually was scheduled for a hearing on the floor.
But in the Senate, it languished for weeks, waiting for a hearing in the Business, Industry and Jobs Committee.
Thursday it had that hearing. Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, sponsored the measure. He told his colleagues he wasn't surprised by the strong opposition from the auto industry, including the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association.
"They've fought against every single standard, whether it's consumer protection or auto safety or environmental standard," Marty said. "Year after year, they give the same excuse -- it's not technologically feasible, it's going to cost consumers an arm and a leg, it's going to take away their choices. But every time, the auto industry has been wrong."
Marty said the technology exists to achieve the reductions California is asking for. The rules would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks -- 40 percent more than new federal standards would achieve.
He said it would save drivers money because they'd be driving more efficient cars.
Molly Schultz with the Minnesota Environmental Partnership shared Marty's frustration with the auto industry.
"What happened to American ingenuity?" Schultz asked. "When did American companies start hiring expensive lobbyists and lawyers and marketing companies to fight progress, instead of hiring engineers and mechanics to develop and build new technology that keeps America as a global leader in manufacturing?"
California proposed its rules back in 2002. So far, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has refused permission to implement them. All three major presidential candidates have said they would let California go ahead.
But that stumbling block was on the mind of Valerie Jerich, who represents the Minnesota Corn Growers and Minnesota Ethanol Producers.
"It's in litigation. We don't know when that is going to happen, whether the new president will have the time to initially overthrow the EPA's ruling and decide to let California go ahead or not," Jerich said. "California can't even implement these standards that we seem to want to adopt for Minnesota."
Ethanol producers are also suspicious of California's record on ethanol. Jerich says California only has a handful of service stations that sell ethanol.
"They say they're moving that way. In two and a half years, you'd think they would have gotten further than they have," Jerich said. "We are the epicenter for biofuels in this state. We think this jeopardizes what we're doing. "
Committee members were divided on the question, and some had sharp words for advocates on both sides.
Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, blasted automakers. He said Detroit wants to keep raking in profits from high markups on SUVs and trucks. But he also reminded his colleagues that most Americans have been seduced by big cars.
"But you know, our love affair is leading us down a road that is going to create environmental havoc for our grandkids," Murphy said. "I'm going to vote for this bill, and people are going to go, 'The auto workers will kill you, these folks are going to kill you, those folks are going to beat you up.' That's OK, but when I go home this weekend and see my grandson, I'm going to be happy about it."
But in the end, more committee members agreed with Sen. Dave Tomassoni,DFL-Chisholm.
"Minnesota is not California. Our air is cleaner, our climate's different, the uses of our vehicles are different, our gas is cheaper," said Tomassoni. "I have absolutely no idea why I, as a legislator from Minnesota, would abdicate my ability to represent my constituents by allowing California to make our laws."
The vote was 10-7 against the measure. Backers say they'll try again next year.
The Legislature did approve a different environmental measure. The cap-and-trade bill, renamed the Green Solutions Act and watered down considerably from its early version, now calls for two studies on how a Midwest carbon-trading market would work.
- Morning Edition, 05/16/2008, 7:20 a.m.