Judge green-lights Minnesota 'clean car' standard

Minnesota regulators can force automakers to put more electric cars and hybrids on dealership lots here, an administrative law judge ruled Friday.

Gov. Tim Walz's administration is pushing to impose the new rule for the 2025 model year to address climate change. Republicans and auto dealers fiercely oppose the change and are trying to slam the brakes using state budget negotiations.

Walz viewed Friday's decision from Jessica Palmer-Denig, the administrative law judge, as "good news for our state," said Teddy Tschann, a spokesman for the governor.

The ruling means the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency can move forward with plans to enforce the new standard for the 2025 vehicle model year.

The standards will set a required number of electric cars and hybrids that automakers must put on their dealership lots in Minnesota. Fifteen other states have adopted similar standards, which are based on California's model.

Dealers say it would force them to hold more low-volume cars on their lots, tying up space that could've been devoted to high-margin, in-demand pickups and SUVs. The Walz administration has rebuffed their arguments, they say.

"(The administration) has chosen to abdicate decisions about Minnesota’s vehicle offerings to California and are instituting a policy that leaves Minnesota dealers bearing the financial risk," said Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association.

Dealers are turning to allies in the Republican-controlled state Senate to fight the changes.

Republican lawmakers first proposed a repeal of the emissions rule before this week offering a two-year delay that would push any changes into the 2027 vehicle model year.

Senate Environment committee chair Bill Ingebrigtsen said Friday's ruling meant little to him.

"Frankly, I don’t think anybody’s ever questioned whether it was legal for the governor to move forward with that," Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said during a conference committee over the environmental budget. "It does not alter the power of the Legislature to adopt a state position on clean cars."

Earlier this week, Ingebrigtsen threatened to cut off funding for state parks and various environmental agencies over the issue.

Such threats are common in the middle of state budget negotiations. More times than not, lawmakers avoid shutdowns.

Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups support the new rule taking effect as scheduled, without a delay.

"In normal times, I think the (administrative law judge) ruling would be the last word. But we are not in normal times," House Environment committee chairman Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said in an interview. "I think if we have the authority and the ability and the technology and the capacity, it is reasonable and rational and logical and necessary to implement these technologies to protect air quality."