California plans to ban new gas-powered cars by 2035. Will 17 states follow?

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  • California plans to ban sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035, requiring all vehicles to be electric or hydrogen-powered.
  • Seventeen states have vehicle emission standards tied to the rules set in California. Now they are debating whether or not they should follow a similar mandate.
  • New York, Washington and others should adopt California’s ban. Colorado and Pennsylvania are among those that probably won’t.

MINNEAPOLIS Seventeen states whose vehicle emission standards are tied to rules set in California must make important decisions about whether to follow that state’s toughest new rules that require all new cars, pickup trucks and SUVs are electric or hydrogen-powered by 2035.

Under the Clean Air Act, states must meet federal standard vehicle emissions standards unless they at least partially choose to follow California’s stricter requirements.

Among them, Washington, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Vermont are expected to adopt California’s ban on new gas-powered vehicles. Colorado and Pennsylvania are among the states that probably won’t. The legal terrain is a bit murkier in Minnesota, where the state’s “clean car” rule has been a political minefield and the subject of legal battle. Meanwhile, Republicans are rebelling in Virginia.

The Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association says its reading of federal and state law is that the new California rules automatically take effect in the state, and that it is taking this matter to court as it try to block them.

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“The technology is such that vehicles just don’t perform as well in cold weather,” said Scott Lambert, president of the business group. “We don’t all live in Southern California.”

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials say the state should launch an all-new rule-making process to adopt California’s changes. And in court filings and legislative hearings, they have said they have no plans to do so now.

“We are not California. Minnesota has its own plan,” Governor Tim Walz said in a statement. He called Minnesota’s program “a smart way to increase, rather than reduce, options for consumers.” Our priority is to reduce costs and increase choice so Minnesotans can drive the vehicle that’s right for them.

Oregon regulators are seeking public comment until September 7 on whether to adopt the new California standards. Regulators in Colorado, which adopted California’s old rules, will not follow the California news, the administration of Democratic Gov. Jared Polis said.

“While the governor shares the goal of moving quickly to electric vehicles, he is skeptical of requiring 100% of cars sold to be electric by a certain date because technology is changing rapidly,” said the Colorado Energy Office in a statement.

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Pennsylvania regulators, which only partially adopted California’s old standards, said they would not automatically follow its new rules. Under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania launched the regulatory process last year to fully comply with California rules, but abandoned it.

Virginia was on track to adopt California’s rules under legislation passed last year when Democrats had full control of Virginia’s government. But Republicans who control the House of Delegates and GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin say they will push to unlink their state.

Minnesota auto dealers are trying to make their state’s current rules — and the possibility they could tighten them to incorporate California’s new restrictions — an issue for the fall election. Control of the Legislative Assembly and the governor’s office is up for grabs, and concessionaires hope to persuade the 2023 Legislative Assembly to roll back the regulations unless they win in court first, Lambert said.

The MPCA, with Walz’s backing, adopted California’s existing standards through administrative rulemaking last year amid a tug of war with Republican lawmakers who were unhappy that the legislature had been excluded from the decision. Lawmakers even tried unsuccessfully to withhold funding from Minnesota’s environmental agencies. One of the casualties was Laura Bishop, who resigned as commissioner of the MPCA after it became apparent she lacked the votes in the GOP-controlled Senate to secure confirmation.

Walz and his administration framed Minnesota’s clean car rule as a fairly painless way to increase the availability of electric vehicles and help the state meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals. The rule aims to increase the supply of battery-powered and hybrid vehicles starting in the 2025 model year by requiring manufacturers to meet California’s current standards for low- and zero-emission vehicles.

A man talks on the phone while sitting in his electric car at a Tesla charging station on Friday, April 2, 2021 in Marin City, Calif.

Lambert said auto dealerships across the state aren’t opposed to electric vehicles. They currently represent 2.3% of new vehicle sales in Minnesota and he expects consumer interest to continue to grow. But the reduced range of battery-powered vehicles in cold weather makes them less attractive in northern states, he said. Minnesota’s rules already threaten to sell dealers more electric vehicles than their customers will buy, he said, and passing California’s ban would make matters worse.

Under federal law, according to Lambert’s reading, states must either adopt California’s rules in their entirety or follow less stringent federal emission standards. He said they couldn’t choose from parts of each. And that effectively means there’s a “ban on the books” in Minnesota for sales of new conventional-fuel vehicles starting with the 2035 model year, he said.

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Lambert’s association was already fighting Minnesota’s existing clean car rules in the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and its petition called for California to make changes announced late last month. A key question is whether “any future changes to incorporated California regulations automatically become part of the Minnesota rules,” as dealers argue.

Lawyers for the MPCA say no and have asked the court to dismiss the challenge. MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler has made similar arguments for months, including before a skeptical Senate committee last March.

Aaron Klemz, director of strategy for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, which will file its own cases against concessionaires in court, acknowledged that the legal landscape is confusing. And he said it was unclear if his group would ultimately ask Minnesota to follow California’s new ban.

“We haven’t analyzed the California rule enough to know if we’re going to push for it to pass in Minnesota,” Klemz said. He noted that other issues come into play, including incentives for electric vehicles as part of reducing inflation. Legislation that President Joe Biden recently signed and the stated intentions of some major automakers to go all-electric.

Contributors: Jim Anderson, Gillian Flaccus and Marc Levy.

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