Legislature ponders Valentine’s Day love affair with clean cars


As each year brings an increase in global temperatures, more days when air quality is deemed unsafe, and new cases of asthma and cancer caused by toxic chemicals and fine-particle soot in the air, Americans have been forced to rethink existing policies regarding pollution control and greenhouse gas emissions. Although the popularity of energy efficient cars has been growing, motor vehicles – especially pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) – are still the nation’s second biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions.

California legislation set stricter auto emission standards than those set by the federal government. California’s standards require car manufacturers to lower carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants from passenger vehicle tailpipes, air conditioners, and other auto-related sources; they will reduce global warming gases significantly more than the 2007 federal energy law. However, in December 2007 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied the waiver request California needs to enforce their new standards. Several states then sued the EPA to overturn the decision.

Last month Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson declared her support for California by joining the 16 other states in the suit. Success would ensure Minnesota’s ability to adopt stricter standards in the future. A bill to adopt California’s lower emission levels has been introduced in this session of the Minnesota State Legislature. The bill will be discussed February 14 in a hearing by the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

The hearing will be held in State Office Building Room 5 at 4 p.m. Representative Kent Eken is the chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

“Minnesotans deserve clean air, a healthy climate — and more miles to the dollar,” insists Christopher Childs, co-chair of the Minnesota Sierra Club chapter’s Clean Air and Renewable Energy Committee. “A Clean Cars bill, based on the one California and a dozen other states have already put in place, will help get us all of the above. It will cut back on all kinds of auto pollution, all the way from the tailpipe to the air conditioner — including carbon dioxide and other global warming gases — while it makes our cars cheaper to drive.” Along with the eleven other member organizations of Clean Energy Minnesota, a coalition devoted to establishing cleaner energy alternatives and limiting global warming emissions, the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club hopes to see Minnesota join the other states – representing over 40% of America’s car-buying consumers – which have already passed legislation to match California’s standards.

“The world has a limited amount of oil, and along with cutting pollution, we need to be using every gallon wisely,” Childs adds. “When California passed its bill in 2002, it gave us all a way to address both problems in one strong legislative package. And the Clean Cars initiative will help keep Minnesota a leader on both fronts.”

Heidi Alford is an intern with the Sierra Club.