MPCA takes Clean Cars program testimony

Photo by Jim Muchlinski MPCA Air Policy Planner Amanda Jarrett Smith moderated this week’s regional public comment meeting held to hear testimony about proposed state policies that will require availability of electric and plug-in hybrid cars. The meeting, attended by 35 people, led to a combination of support and criticism. It was one of six sessions being held this fall throughout the state.

MARSHALL — Representatives from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency heard two types of messages Wednesday evening at a public comment meeting for the Clean Cars Minnesota proposal.

About 35 people filled the community room at the Marshall-Lyon County Library for the two-hour session. Some who spoke thanked MPCA for its rulemaking process, saying that it will provide them with more of an opportunity to choose electric cars and plug-in hybrids.

Others at the meeting voiced opposition to the process as part of a government mandate, one that could restrict the auto industry from providing cars that meet consumer demand.

“It’s based on California rules,” said Minnesota Auto Dealers Association President Scott Lambert. “Every state that’s going along with it is adopting what California decided. As Minnesotans, we’d be abdicating our authority.”

Lambert and several others who spoke questioned why there won’t be a public vote on the final state policy. They raised concern about how new incentives for electric cars might run contrary to what a large share of the public wants, such as the convenience of established gas stations and the comfort of 21st century SUVs.

MPCA Air Policy Planner Amanda Jarrett Smith, who moderated Wednesday’s meeting, said in both her introduction and conclusion that there’s no effort by MPCA to force anyone to own an electric or hybrid car.

She said the rulemaking process, instead, is aimed making it feasible for more Minnesotans to choose one of those options as their primary mode of transportation. She added that the greatest need for consumer choice exists in rural parts of the state, where many residents can’t take trips in reduced emission vehicles because of a lack of charging stations other than what they have at home.

She told participants that MPCA is following a directive from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz based on recent legislative actions.

State officials have plans to expand the network of charging sites to more of the state. Marshall is at the end of one proposed route, which runs to Mankato and then to the Twin Cities metro area. Another new route is expected to link Willmar to the Twin Cities.

MPCA’s rulemaking process aims to create more opportunity for consumers to buy cars for the growing station network with guidelines that require manufactures to deliver more of those vehicles.

“We’re in the earliest stages of deciding how to provide availability,” Jarrett Smith said. “What we want is to hear questions and concerns. That will show us what we need to explore.”

The meeting is one of six taking place this fall throughout Minnesota, Jarrett Smith said. A session in Fergus Falls drew an estimated 45 people. Another 70 individuals attended an Oct. 30 meeting in Burnsville.

Three additional meetings are planned this month in Virginia, Minn., Minneapolis, and Mankato. A review period this winter is scheduled to be followed by final proposed rules and then a final adoption by the end of 2020.

Minnesota plans to join 14 other states that have gone beyond federal Clean Air Act emissions mandates for vehicles. They include 10 of the 11 northeasternmost states except for New Hampshire, as well as the western states of California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado.

Jarrett Smith said MPCA has research statistics that show reduced air emissions since 2005, but which also indicate a need for further air quality measures in order to reach long term reduction goals.

She added that passenger cars are being treated as a high priority in public policymaking because of their extensive role in everyday life. An estimated 74 percent of all vehicle emissions originate from passenger car traffic.

“A large part of the emissions issue centers around vehicles individuals use to drive around every day,” she said. “To make a difference in air quality, we have to address that segment of transportation.”

About a half dozen people who made comments described their reasons to use cars that greatly reduce or eliminate air emissions.

Along with air quality, they’ve found some cost-related benefits in terms of lower fuel expenses and less long term maintenance. Several who are located in rural counties said their greatest limitation with electric or hybrid cars is the lack of access to statewide commercial infrastructure.

“A lot of people would like to own these vehicles,” said Peg Furshong, who serves as operations and program manager for Clean Up Our River Environment based in Montevideo. “In my area the only way to have them has been to buy and service them in the Twin Cities or St. Cloud. I’m thankful that efforts are being made to make them more available.”

Some comments from the meeting related car choices to the larger question of how much to conserve natural resources, particularly whether a better quality of life equates to having more resources to consume.

Darwin Dyce of Ghent said the idea of greater consumption no longer applies in the 21st century. He said mass marketing aimed to encourage consumption often runs counter to the need for a way of life that will sustain resources for future generations.

“We live on a finite planet, and that’s starting to catch up with us,” Dyce said. “We really need to at least consider things like this, to do what we can to have a manageable quality of life. Anything less than that is selfish.”