Clean Car Legislation: Next Step to Address Global Warming
by Senator John Marty
January 30, 2008
Because of global warming, the very nature of life on the planet for our grandchildren and their grandchildren hinges on the decisions we make in the next few years. If the scientists who deal with climate issues are correct about the speed and extent of global warming, it is no exaggeration to describe the looming environmental problem as a catastrophe.

Most Minnesotans support bold steps to address global warming, but progress is slowed by powerful business interests, particularly oil and gas companies and some electric utilities, who fund scientists seeking to disprove global warming, or at least to create a "controversy" over whether it is a problem.

Additionally, many politicians from President Bush on down, have taken campaign contributions from these big energy companies as well as the auto industry. Not surprisingly, they have opposed any significant action to address the problem. As a result, the United States, which produces more greenhouse gases per person than any other country, has taken only small steps towards the solution.

Although the Bush administration and the previous Congress refused to act at the national level, individual states began to respond. Because California had auto emission standards before federal clean air laws took effect, it is allowed to set tougher pollution limits. Several years ago, California added greenhouse gas restrictions to their auto standards despite a massive lobbying campaign by the auto industry. The California legislation was responsible and deliberate in its approach, allowing auto manufacturers until 2009 to meet the new standards.

Other states are allowed to adopt California's tougher standards if they choose, and more than a dozen other states have done so. Minnesota has not. Our legislation has been defeated in the past under pressure from the automakers. Auto industry opposition is not a surprise. They have consistently lobbied against every safety requirement, every consumer protection measure, and every environmental standard.

The tide may be turning, and the bill is up for consideration again this year. The Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group recently recommended adoption of this legislation. There is strong public support for the proposal. However, this legislation will not pass without a fight.

At the bidding of the auto lobbyists, the Bush administration used the Environmental Protection Agency (aren't they supposed to be protecting the environment?) to block California’s implementation of its 2002 carbon standards. This has given the auto industry one more argument against the Minnesota bill, claiming it would be meaningless for Minnesota to adopt those standards.

But attorneys believe they have a very solid case for reversing the EPA action. To her credit Minnesota attorney general Lori Swanson has joined California in fighting the EPA ruling.

Another argument the auto industry has begun using against Minnesota's adoption of the California standards is that the U.S. Congress recently adopted new fuel efficiency standards, which will reduce carbon emissions, albeit at a slower pace. The lobbyists offer contradictory claims about it -- saying there is hardly any difference between the California requirements and the new federal standards, while at the same time saying the California requirements are much too tough to meet.

Although cars meeting the California standards would cost a little more, those costs would be more than made up at the gas pump, long before owners complete their car payments.

For the first time, the "Clean Car Bill" has a reasonable chance of success in Minnesota. Continuing public interest and pressure make it possible. However, even if we pass this legislation, we will need to do much more to address global warming, and do it more rapidly.

Environmental leaders and legislators are justifiably proud of Minnesota's new renewable energy standards for power plants, which are the strongest in the nation. Passage of this important bill last year is an indication that global warming is finally getting attention in Minnesota politics. Even so, in the year 2025, Minnesota will still allow most electric utilities to generate as much as three-fourths of their power from fossil fuels.

It would be more convenient to ignore this problem. Our generation can continue as we have been without regard to posterity. But this is not good stewardship. California took the lead in addressing auto greenhouse gas emissions, other states have followed. Minnesota, once a leader in environmental protection, should be the next state on that list. Not for our sake, but for the sake of our grandchildren's grandchildren.

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