Statewide View: California Car Mandates Not Right for Minnesota

The following article originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune.

This week, the Center of the American Experiment crisscrossed the state of Minnesota to help educate residents about the Walz administration’s attempt to impose California’s car mandates on Minnesotans. These California car regulations would increase the cost of driving for Minnesotans up to $2,500 per vehicle while having zero measurable environmental benefits. The regulations would be all pain and no gain.

They would put California — specifically the unelected bureaucrats on the California Air Resources Board, or CARB — in charge of deciding which cars Minnesotans can drive. The regulations would allow CARB to set fuel mileage standards for all Minnesota vehicles and force our auto dealers to stock unpopular and unprofitable electric vehicles on their lots.

Minnesota is obviously a much different place than California. It gets much colder here, which reduces electric-vehicle range by up to 40%. In addition, 82% of new vehicles sold in Minnesota are large. In contrast, California enjoys balmy weather, and only 54% of Californians recently bought pickup trucks, SUVs, crossovers, or minivans, according to the Auto Alliance.

Despite these important differences, Minnesotans would have zero ability to adapt the rules to help them better suit the needs of drivers here. The rules imposed on Minnesota drivers would be the same rules applied to California drivers.

Supporters of the California mandates claim they will increase vehicle choices for consumers, save Minnesotans money, and help save the planet. These claims are easily refuted.

Advocates for electric vehicles claim the rules are needed to expand access to electric vehicles that are not currently sold in Minnesota. However, Minnesotans already have access to all the top-selling electric-vehicle brands, and survey results from CleanTechnica, which supports electric vehicles, show that few people even want the cars that aren’t offered in Minnesota. The electric-vehicle mandates would simply force auto dealers to stock cars nobody really wants.

In contrast, the fuel mileage standards would limit the ability of Minnesotans to buy the cars they actually do want. This is because the rules require that all cars meet average gas-mileage standards. To meet the standards, automakers would need to sell more small cars that bring down the average fuel mileage. To do this, they would almost certainly need to offer fewer trucks, crossovers, and SUVs.

Advocates of the rules say their better gas-mileage mandates would save consumers money in the long run, but this talking point also can be disproved. An analysis performed for the Colorado Auto Dealers Association estimated that the rules would increase the cost of conventional gas-powered cars by up to $2,500 per car. In states that favor larger vehicles, like Minnesota, it would take more than 14 years for a model year 2022 truck to recoup this up-front cost through fuel savings. The average age for a vehicle in Minnesota is only 11.8 years, meaning the rules are likely never to pay for themselves.

Minnesotans are already free to buy fuel-efficient vehicles, and 82% of us prioritize other features over fuel economy.

While these rules would increase the cost of driving in Minnesota, they would have zero measurable impact on the environment. Air-monitoring data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show that levels of small particles in Hennepin County were actually higher during the Walz administration’s COVID-19 shutdown than during the previous five-year average. This means pollution was higher in the Twin Cities, even though state data showed traffic was down around 40%.

If shutting down the state’s economy and taking 40% of cars off the road did not result in less air pollution, it means our air quality is already very good — and these rules wouldn’t change that one way or the other.

These rules would not “make sure there’s ice on that lake in January,” as Gov. Tim Walz stated when he announced he would unilaterally impose the California car mandates on Minnesota.

Advocates claim the rules would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2 million tons per year. This sounds like a lot until you realize that global emissions were 36 billion tons in 2019, meaning it would reduce about 0.01% of the global total, and this would only reduce future global temperatures by 0.000052 degrees C by 2100, an amount far too small to measure with the most sophisticated scientific equipment.

These rules would impose real hardship on Minnesota families for imaginary benefits. We need as many people as possible to sign our petition telling Gov. Walz and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that we don’t want to pay $2,500 more for rules that won’t accomplish anything.

Isaac Orr is a policy fellow specializing in energy and environmental policy at the Center of the American Experiment, a think tank in Golden Valley, Minn. To read more on this topic, he suggests He wrote this for the News Tribune.