Opponents of the clean cars plan are using Trumpian disinformation | Opinion

Air pollution in Minneapolis. The city skyline was engulfed in smoke from Canada wildfires in 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

Four years of mass disinformation and lies from the Trump White House and GOP loyalists culminated in the Big Lie that the election was stolen, a claim debunked in dozens of courtrooms and by a bevy of Republican election officials. 

Now we’re seeing this familiar playbook of disinformation and “alternative facts,” a hallmark of the Trump years, play out in our own state. Minnesota Republicans are using these tactics to drive a pro-pollution agenda that benefits special interests but flies in the face of the reality of the climate crisis, market trends, public health and our economic future.

Their target at the state Legislature this session is the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) Clean Cars initiative, which would require car manufacturers to provide more cars, light-duty trucks, and SUVs with lower or zero emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. A bill being heard in committee Wednesday in the GOP-controlled Senate would stop MPCA from developing the Clean Car initiative.  

That’s a bad idea. Here’s why: Due to the high demand for electric vehicles (EVs) in places like China, Europe and U.S. states that have already adopted clean car standards, automakers often don’t send their EVs to non-clean car states like Minnesota because their supply is already used up. This leads to fewer options for EV buyers in Minnesota. Stories abound of prospective EV buyers left out in the cold here when it comes to purchasing the car they want. Some have even been forced to head out of state to buy the EV they want. Clean Cars Minnesota would mean more EVs are sent here, thereby increasing consumer choices for those who want them.

The way the Clean Car initiative would work is that automakers would be required to produce a certain number of “credits” each year to comply. Credits are calculated based on the type of vehicle — plug-in hybrid or battery electric — and battery range. The lower the emissions and longer the range of the vehicle, the more credits a manufacturer gets. The credit requirements are indexed to an automakers total sales of traditional gas-powered vehicles, so the credit requirement will adjust itself to market conditions, i.e. if fewer gas-powered cars are being sold then the automaker will need to produce fewer credits.

This proposal is a win-win for Minnesota. It provides Minnesotans more choices in the cars they drive and will significantly reduce our state’s climate pollution, cleaning our air and helping us preserve what makes our state great for our kids and grandkids. It will also serve as an important market signal as the country heads full throttle toward an electric future. Last month, General Motors announced it intends to sell only electric cars and trucks by 2035. Minnesota can be in the vanguard of states adopting these standards and cement its place as a leader in innovation and the rapidly growing clean energy economy. 

Minnesota Senate Republicans, who for years have blocked any real action on climate change, have decided that they will try to block this one too. They have resorted to spinning ever more fanciful tales about the Clean Cars initiative. Some of them may even believe them. They are sending out videos and writing columns for their local news outlets with outright lies, saying that Clean Cars Minnesota will affect farm equipment (it will not); that it will affect heavy-duty trucks (it will not); that it bans combustion engines (it does not); that it is an end run around the Legislature (it is not); And plenty of others. Sen. Andrew Mathews, R- Princeton, has introduced legislation that would ban the MPCA from protecting Minnesota’s air from any auto emissions. This bill is getting a senate committee hearing this Wednesday, and indications are it is a priority for Senate Republicans. 

Why in the world would we want to prevent the state agency charged with protecting us from pollution from protecting us from pollution?

At a hearing of the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee last month, Minnesotans testified about the proposed clean cars rule. Of the 17 testifiers, 11 were in favor of the clean cars proposal.

Unfortunately, however, opponents parroted the disinformation they had clearly gotten from those peddling lies. We do a grave disservice to our fellow Minnesotans when we mislead them for political gain, and many of those pushing disinformation are doing so with their eyes on the next election. 

That they will fail in blocking this necessary initiative moving forward is almost certain. But that does not mean they won’t also be doing incalculable damage along the way by creating unnecessary fear and anger. By doubling down on a politics rooted in lies and grievance, they are creating for all of us a more difficult world.