Three Must-Know Facts About Governor Walz’s Plan to Impose California Car Mandates on Minnesota

On Wednesday, Governor Walz announced that he would be using the bureaucratic rule making process to impose California’s rules for low and zero emissions vehicles (LEV and ZEV) on to Minnesota car buyers. While the Governor has tried to frame this as a win for consumer choice, Minnesota families, and the environment, the facts suggest that the Governor’s proposed regulations are solution in search of a problem.

Three facts you need to know about this proposal are:

  1. This is not about expanding consumer choice.
  2. It will mandate the sale of smaller, lighter cars that are not as safe as bigger, heavier cars.
  3. It will have no measurable impact on the environment.

Not About Expanding Consumer Choice

Governor Walz has tried to frame the issue as offering Minnesotans more options for purchasing electric vehicles (EV’s), arguing that only about 19 of the 43 hybrid or electric vehicles on the market nationally are available in Minnesota. However, this argument is disingenuous because it fails to note that the only reason these cars are sold in other states is because government regulations are forcing carmakers to do so.

The story goes like this, in 2012, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) mandated that automakers that sell at least 60,000 vehicles a year in the state — Chrysler (now Fiat Chrysler), Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota — must sell zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) using the formula of 0.79 percent of their total California sales in order to sell any cars in the state.

Recently, California amended its ZEV mandates to require that 15.4 percent of an automaker’s fleet must be ZEV by 2025 (13 states have similar mandates). Remember, failure to meet these mandates would result in carmakers losing the ability to sell any vehicles in California.

This puts carmakers in a bind, because California is the largest market for cars in the nation. Companies can either cede market share to their competitors by leaving the state, or build and sell “compliance cars,” cars made specifically to comply with the new mandates. In the end, most carmakers choose compliance cars.

The problem with this situation is that electric cars are unprofitable. In fact, GM doesn’t expect electric cars to be profitable until early next decade, and the need to sell ZEV’s in the state in order to sell other vehicles forces carmakers to sell electric cars at a loss.

Car companies can’t afford to mass produce money-losing cars, so they often try to sell as few compliance cars as possible to limit their losses. This is why cars like the Chevrolet Spark EV, Ford Focus EV, Fiat 500e, Honda Fit EV and Toyota RAV4 EV are only available in the states that mandate ZEV sales.

In the end, these new emissions mandates are less about increasing choices for consumers and more about holding the Minnesota car market for ransom by forcing car companies to sell unprofitable cars before being able to sell profitable ones. Unfortunately, the fact that that EV’s are unprofitable means carmakers must increase their prices on their regular gasoline and diesel powered cars to make up for the money lost selling EV’s.

As a result, EV mandates drive up the cost of driving for everyone.

Lighter Cars Are Less Safe Than Heavier Cars

When experts evaluate safety, a car’s size and weight factor into the testing criteria in addition to the structural strength and material. Unfortunately, when carmakers are forced to increase fuel efficiency, they often make cars smaller and lighter, which in turn makes them less safe.

According to Esurance:

“In a frontal collision, the front end is the part of the car that bears the most impact. A bigger front end gives a car more time to absorb the impact, slowing the car as the front end gets crushed. This reduces the force on the front-seat passengers and lessens the chance of intrusion into the passenger area. In general, the more distance between a car’s front end and its passengers, the safer those passengers will be in the event of a front-end collision.”

Smaller cars, with their smaller front ends, transfer more of a collision’s impact to their passengers, which can increase the risk of injury.”

Minnesota families already have many fuel-efficient options for the cars they purchase, but the fact that SUV’s and crossovers are growing in popularity suggests that economy is just one of many priorities for drivers, and that other factors, such as safety and room are more important for Minnesota drivers.

If Minnesota families choose fuel economy as their top priority, that’s fine and dandy, but they should not be forced in to cars that are less safe to avert an imperceptibly small amount of global warming in the future.

No Measurable Environmental Benefits

While Governor Walz has crowed that these new regulations are a win for air quality and the climate, the data show these regulations will have little impact on either of these metrics.

Traditional Air Pollution

Minnesota’s cars are already clean. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, new passenger vehicles are 98-99 percent cleaner for most tailpipe pollutants compared to the 1960s. Technologies have created more efficient engines and catalytic converters, which have greatly reduced tailpipe emissions from cars. Furthermore, fuels are much cleaner—lead has been eliminated, and sulfur levels are more than 90 percent lower than they were prior to regulation.

Our already-clean cars have contributed to clean air, and as I’ve pointed out before, Minnesota’s air is already great.

In fact, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency graph below, our air already meets the most stringent state and federal standards for air quality, which are designed to protect even vulnerable populations like children and the elderly. Pollution from sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are especially low.

It’s also important to note that cars and trucks only make up about 24 percent of small particulates, sulfur dioxide, and nitrous oxides in our air. In contrast, dry cleaners, home heating, and backyard fires account for 35 percent of these already-low emissions.

It would seem the most reasonable course of action at this point is sit back and enjoy a job well done, but if the Walz administration truly wanted to improve air quality in the most effective way possible, they would eliminate more of these pollutants by banning backyard fires.


No Impact on Global Warming

Governor Walz has made it clear that the main reason he is using the rule-making process to impose California’s emission standards on Minnesota is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, thus reducing their impact on climate change. The only problem is that these regulations will have an immeasurably small impact on future global temperatures.

According to Governor Walz, these regulations could reduce CO2 emissions from cars and trucks by 2 million tons per year by 2030. While that may sound like a lot, it is only about 1.3 percent of total state emissions, as of 2016, according to the MPCA’s website.

What is conspicuously absent from Governor Walz’s announcement is how much global warming these new regulations would avert. Considering the fact that Governor Walz made the claim that this regulation would help “make sure there was still ice on the lake in January,” this seems like quite an oversight.

However, the reason why Governor Walz didn’t announce how much global warming these regulations would avert, I presume, is because the impact is far too small to measure.

Using the same logic used by the Obama administration in developing the Clean Power Plan, which was widely considered to be the previous administration’s more sweeping climate change initiative, we can determine the temperature impact of the Governor Walz’s plan to impose California emissions mandates on Minnesota.

Had it not been stayed by the Supreme Court, the Clean Power Plan would have averted 730 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, which would have averted 0.019 degrees C by 2100, which is an amount too small to accurately measure with even the most sophisticated scientific equipment, according to the Obama administration’s own climate models.

The regulations proposed by Governor Walz would avert 2 million tons annually, or about 0.27 percent of the reductions from the Clean Power Plan. We can then determine the temperature impact of the regulation by multiplying 0.019 degrees C by 0.27 percent, which gives us a temperature reduction of 0.000052 degrees C by 2100, an amount far too small to measure.


In short, these rules will have foreseeable negative consequences, whether they are intended or not. I will be writing much more about this topic, including how these regulations will inevitably make new cars more expensive and how it will impact Minnesota’s economy in the coming days and weeks as we learn more about the proposed rules. Stay tuned.