NORTH MANKATO — A legislative forum on climate and energy issues Friday showed bipartisan support for biofuels and ethanol but a deep divide when it comes to the state’s new clean car standards and promotion of more solar.
Gov. Tim Walz, through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, instituted new Clean Cars rules that require manufacturers and dealers to meet higher fuel economy standards, which will effectively require that more electric vehicles are sold. The rules are based on a California program.
Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, said the rules don’t make sense here, noting California’s top sellers are smaller cars.
“The No. 1 seller is the Ford F150 (pickup) in Minnesota. We drive different vehicles than in California.
“I think people are concerned about losing choice, losing options.”
Sen. Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said he understands many people don’t like California policies in general but noted that 14 other states have adopted the same clean car standards. And he also said he understands some people just don’t like change.
“Nobody likes government mandates, but it is in the public interest. At a certain point, you have to take the stand.
“It doesn’t require anyone to buy an electric vehicle; it just makes more of them available,” Frentz said.
He predicts that by the time the rules take effect in 2025, there will be no opposition or talk about the rules as electric vehicles, including pickups, continue to improve and demand by consumers grows.
Rep. Susan Akland, R-St. Peter, said the rules put too much burden on auto dealers.
“Dealers say they will be required to have a certain number of electric vehicles and they won’t sell them. They’re not happy. Let the market decide electric vehicles,” she said.
Rep. Luke Frederick, DFL-Mankato, said the rules are a necessary push for what is coming and what is needed to move away from burning fossil fuels.
“Over the course of the next 10 to 20 years, electric vehicles are going to take over. It’s how the private sector works and what consumers want.”
Frederick said it’s important for the state to continue to help get more electric charging stations installed across the state.
The legislators, including Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, spoke in person or via Zoom at the forum in North Mankato, sponsored by the Southern Minnesota Clean Energy Council.
One of the most contentious differences arose over the issue of whether state programs subsidizing solar panels and electric vehicles support countries that use slave labor to mine for cobalt, lithium and nickel as well as other rare earth metals to make lithium batteries and solar panels.
Munson last legislative session introduced an amendment to ban the use of slave labor in Africa and South America mining operations for use in solar panels for schools but said Democrats defeated the measure
Frentz and Frederick said everyone opposes slave labor and abuse of workers, but said Munson and other Republicans only push the issue because they oppose state rules and subsidies that support solar and electric vehicles.
“To just focus it on solar panels is disingenuous,” Frederick said. “It in no way makes an impact on labor violations overall. The metals going into solar panels are the same metals being put in everyone’s cellphones and a lot of other things.”
Frentz said pushing to end human rights abuses is important but noted Republicans aren’t calling for the end of the import of Nike shoes or other products that critics say are produced with child or slave labor.
“Don’t just make a labor violation effort related to (clean energy). Make it on everything,” Frentz told Munson.
Munson said it’s a legitimate issue. “I don’t think I need to defend my opposition of slavery.”
He said there is a small amount of cobalt in his cellphone and other products, but he chose to purchase them himself. Subsidizing solar and EV are different, he said.
“We are taking money from Minnesotans and sending it to slave owners. The government doesn’t pay for Nike’s,” Munson said.
And he said the tiny battery in his cellphone doesn’t compare to large lithium batteries on electric vehicles.
Senjem stressed that both parties want to move ahead with clean energy initiatives but said Republicans are less interested in pushing big, quick changes from the state as reliance on fossil fuels will continue for many years.
“There’s nowhere near enough renewable power on the system,” he said.
Senjem said the GOP wants incremental approaches to bring more clean energy into the system over the next 10 to 30 years.
Frentz said bolder action is needed to rein in problems of climate change. He noted that in 2007 a bipartisan bill, signed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, required the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% between 2005 and 2050,
“Now in 2021 we’re only at 8% reduction.”