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Op-Ed: Minnesota’s burdensome clean transportation standards drive up costs

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Minnesota legislators may try to phase out traditional motor fuels and the vehicles that run on them. The state is already imposing strict tailpipe standards and an electric vehicle sales mandate that go into effect for model year 2025 cars. Next, lawmakers are considering another step towards a California-style ban on sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles: a Clean Transportation Standard (CTS) that is a more aggressive version of California’s low carbon fuel standard program. It’s a terrible idea with dire consequences for Minnesota families.

The carbon program is required by a law passed in May 2023 directing four state agencies to convene a CTS Work Group to study options for reducing carbon intensity of transportation fuels by as much as “100 percent” below 2018 levels by 2050. Carbon intensity of fuel is how much carbon dioxide is emitted for each unit of energy in different types of fuel, like gasoline, diesel, or ethanol.

The Work Group submitted its report to the legislature in February 2024. Acknowledging that “the carbon intensity targets included in the law may be very difficult to achieve given what we know today about transportation fuel markets and clean fuel technologies,” the Work Group recommend changing the 100-percent 2050 “target” to a “goal” and re-evaluating it at a later program review period.

However, what the legislature needs to hear is that suppressing Minnesota’s access to traditional fuels will impose big new costs on anyone doing business in the state while producing no detectable climate-related benefits.

Reducing the carbon intensity of Minnesota fuels to zero by 2050 could increase gasoline and diesel prices by 39 to 45 cents per gallon by 2030, according to The Center for the American Experiment, a Minnesota based think-tank. This would increase the cost of driving for Minnesota families by an average of $350 to $476 per household in 2030, while families in rural counties would pay up to $1,151 in 2030.

The Center also calculates that “eliminating all of the greenhouse gases emitted by transportation in Minnesota would reduce future global temperatures by 0.00095° C by 2100, an amount so small it is impossible to measure with even the most sophisticated scientific equipment.” That’s a lot of economic pain for an environmental result that is too small to be experienced or verified.

The legislature directed the working group to “study and address information gaps.” They didn’t do that well. Instead of offering a realistic critique of the CTS, the work group advises the legislature to enact carbon intensity targets of at least 15 percent in 2030, 43 percent in 2040, and 67 percent in 2050. That would still drive up energy costs for Minnesota families and businesses without providing any discernible climate-related benefits.

Imposing aggressive new carbon intensity targets without ensuring the readiness and affordability of technologies needed to achieve those goals is a recipe for escalating consumer expenses and shocks to the state economy that could include blackouts, job loss at manufacturing plants, and other problems. The energy situation is made even worse by the state mandating a premature transition to electric vehicles and putting pressure on the electricity grid from the heightened demand for electricity.

As often happens in climate change policy, consumers’ interests are ignored. Reliability, affordability, and practicality should be the driving principles behind transportation and energy policy. Regrettably, neither the Minnesota legislature nor its CTS Work Group seem to respect those common-sense principles.

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