A powerful state Senate Republican chairman has issued a budget threat that could be felt across Minnesota, with particular repercussions for greater Minnesota.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, who leads the environmental and natural resources committee, has said that unless Democrats drop a proposed clean car emis-sions rule adopted in 15 other states, there will be no funding for state parks, the Minnesota Zoo, the Department of Natural Resources and other environmental functions. That could mean, among other things, closure of state parks by July and no ability to get fishing licenses, which are issued by the DNR.
The new emissions rule, brought forward by the state Pollution Control Agency, would require auto manufacturers to increase the number of electric vehicles headed to Minnesota. It would, finally, give Minnesota drivers who want electric or hybrid vehicles more options than they have now.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka told an editorial writer that a state shutdown "is not a caucus position" but then added, "We have passionate chairs who really believe in issues they're trying to get. I support the positions they want to get. What [Ingebrigtsen] is trying to accomplish is important."
There already is already a substantial gap between the House and Senate environmental proposals. The DFL House's $371 million bill would move toward addressing climate change, reducing pollution and fighting chronic wasting disease and invasive species. It would include new regulations on perfluoroalkyl substances in food packaging, prohibit turtle harvesting and create environmental justice areas.
The Republican Senate's skinnier $317 million bill would prioritize recycling and waste management, support groundwater preservation, and emphasize funding for the state parks, trails and the tourism industry while also targeting invasive species. It also would strip the Pollution Control Agency of its ability to enact clean car rules, forcing the agency to go through the Legislature, where Republicans have pledged to block them.
There are worthy goals in both bills, and the more than $50 million gap between them will be hard enough to close without "or else" demands. Greater Minnesota's economy, in particular, is in a fragile place. It needs those nearly 10 million visitors a year who flow through state parks. Nearly 20% of those visitors come from other states and countries. Uncertainty about parks funding could well result in changed plans for some of them.
The Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association already tried to sue in federal court over the MPCA's authority to issue such a rule and failed, with the court dismissing the suit in February. The rule itself should not be this controversial. Transportation is now the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in this state. The proposed rule is not, as Gazelka and Ingebrigtsen have portrayed it, a California plan.
Clean car emissions rules have also been adopted in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia. New Mexico has devised its own clean car standard, and Nevada is developing its new standard through, yes, rule-making.
Interestingly, Virginia adopted its rule with the full support of the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association. In an interview with Bloomberg Law, that association's president, Don Hall, said his group was in favor of more electric vehicle inventory but that distribution was lagging. He described dealers' support of the new rule as "unprecedented," adding that it was "better to get on that electric train and be a part of the future than to dig our heels in and say no, no, no, people don't want these cars."
That is a very sensible approach.