Statewide View Column: Trump Can Stop Walz From Turning Minnesota into a Cold California

This article originally appeared in The Duluth News Tribune.

In late September, Gov. Tim Walz announced he would circumvent the Legislature by using the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s bureaucratic rulemaking process to force Minnesota to comply with California’s regulations mandating the use of zero-emissions vehicles and low-emissions vehicles (“Minnesota to follow California auto standards,” Sept. 26).

Proponents of these rules claim they will improve consumer options and the environment, but the truth is these mandates will raise vehicle costs for families and businesses with no measurable environmental benefit.

Thankfully, the administration of President Donald Trump may preempt Gov. Walz’s attempt to let unelected bureaucrats on the California Air Resources Board dictate which cars Minnesotans can drive.

Despite the governor’s claims, these regulations are not a win for consumer choice. That’s because electric cars are not very popular, they lose utility in winter, and they are unprofitable for carmakers.

It may come as a surprise to people living outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul, but 98% of the cars sold in Minnesota are not electric. In fact, 80% of new-vehicle sales in Minnesota are trucks and SUVs. The reason consumers prefer larger, gas- and diesel-powered vehicles is obvious; it is nice to have a larger vehicle that does not suffer from greatly reduced range during Minnesota winters.

Unfortunately, electric cars experience a 40% reduction in battery life when the temperature is 20 degrees above zero. Duluth already has seen cold-weather headaches with its costly electric buses: “DTA temporarily pulls electric buses” over braking problems on icy hillside avenues and a lack of on-board heat, the News Tribune reported on Dec. 12 last year. Duluth’s electric buses require diesel-powered heaters just so passengers can ride in comfort and so the buses’ battery ranges aren’t strained.

Clearly, Walz should pump the brakes on his poorly thought-out plan to mandate electric vehicles sales in the state.

Electric cars are also unprofitable, and General Motors believes this will continue to be true into the next decade, as the Los Angeles Times and others have reported. This means carmakers, forced to sell money-losing cars that consumers don’t want, will have to raise prices on gas- and diesel-powered cars to make up for losses on cars the government forces them to sell. In the end, we will all end up paying more as a result of these mandates.

From an environmental standpoint, Walz also said these regulations would be a way to “make sure there is still ice on the lake in January,” but the fact of the matter is that California car mandates would avert just 0.000052 degrees Celsius by 2100, according to a September report by the Center of the American Experiment, an amount far too small to measure.

Considering that these regulations would drive up costs for consumers, and there’s already ice on the lakes in November, it doesn’t seem likely the average Minnesota family will agree the benefits of these regulations outweigh the costs.

Thankfully, Gov. Walz may not get his way, because the Trump Administration has rescinded California’s ability to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from cars that was illegally granted by the Obama Administration. While California will still be able to tailor its regulations to help combat traditional pollutants, fuel-economy standards will be streamlined into one federal standard.

This is important because California is the largest market for vehicles in the nation, and, as a result, allowing the Golden State to set its own standards effectively allows unelected bureaucrats on the California Air Resources Board to set fuel-economy standards for the rest of the country.

The energy policies supported by Gov. Walz seem to indicate he is determined to turn Minnesota into a cold California. If he is successful in imposing California’s costly car mandates on Minnesota, I suspect dealerships in Superior will appreciate the extra business.

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. He wrote this for the News Tribune.