“In 1970 when we had a smog problem it wasn’t the nation’s automakers who came forward proposing a solution. It was the U.S. government. And the automakers said, ‘We can’t, we can’t, we can’t, we won’t be able to, we’ll die.’ They did it and we dramatically reduced air pollution.”
Those are the words of State Representative Melissa Hortman as she compared that situation to the debate about the Clean Car legislation currently in the Minnesota legislature. Representative Hortman is the chief author of the bill that would have Minnesota join thirteen other states in adopting fuel efficiency standards originally developed by California. These benchmarks require a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 18% by the year 2020 and 27% by 2030 from new passenger cars and light trucks.
Some organizations, such as the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, argue that following California’s lead would reduce consumer choice and increase the price of new vehicles. Scott Lambert, an Executive Vice President at MADA, adds that “the cars aren’t any cleaner in the Clean Car Bill. They’re just California cars, not cleaner cars. It’s a myth that they’re cleaner.”
Representative Hortman disagrees. She states that, according to a study conducted by Governor Pawlenty’s Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group, adopting the Clean Car legislation “would reduce an additional 13.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent” by 2025 when compared to the current federal standards.
As for increased prices, Monique Sullivan with Clean Energy Minnesota admits that consumers will pay more upfront for these more efficient cars. However, she says that the “payback period for consumers seeing that money back in their pockets is pretty short because the fuel savings are so significant.”
Representative Hortman has the numbers to back that up. For the first models of cars and light trucks introduced in 2012, the average cost increase would be $367, or about seven dollars a month. That’s compared with an average monthly fuel savings of $18, netting consumers an extra $11 each month. In 2016 when the efficiency standards are set to become more strict, costs would increase even more, but fuel savings would again follow suit. All in all, Representative Hortman says that Minnesota consumers would save $265 million by 2025.
Sullivan adds that there’s “no proof” that adopting the California standards would cause any vehicle models to be discontinued.
If the California Clean Car standards are enacted by the 14 states that have adopted them, Environment Minnesota estimates that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 450 metric million tons by 2020. This is equivalent to reducing all pollution on 84.7 million cars to zero for a year and would represent a significant step in curbing global warming.
Continuing her analogy about the auto industry, Representative Hortman brings up another former sticking point. “When people were dying by being launched through windshields, the auto manufacturers didn’t come to Congress and say we really need to put seat belts into cars. It was the policy makers who had to bring it forward. Again the automakers said: ‘No way, we can’t do it, we can’t do it.’ And hundred of thousands of people are alive today because they did.”
Tim Lehman is an English major at Macalester College and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.