Electric vehicles are in vogue today, particularly by some Minnesota officials. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, with Gov. Tim Walz’s backing, proposed a rule mandating vehicle retailers stock a certain number of electric vehicles, regardless of customer demand. The rule ties Minnesota’s car standards to California’s Zero Emission Vehicle program, hoping to force electric vehicles onto Minnesota’s roads rather than relying on the open market.
The proposal’s problems are abundant. Data shows many Minnesotans prefer pick-ups and SUVs, vehicle choices that would be limited under the rule. The rule mandates Minnesotans would essentially lose their right to an open vehicle market, with an estimated 18,000 electric vehicles forced onto car lots.
Compounding the rule’s affront to market principles are practical hurdles. Rural Minnesota lacks the infrastructure to accommodate widespread electric vehicle use. Electric vehicles aren’t cheap, costing around $13,000 more on average than other vehicles. The proposal notes Minnesotans can expect to pay $1,139 more per all vehicles.
That’s not the worst part. Recently the MPCA admitted it made a series of miscalculations when projecting the mandate’s benefits. This resulted in gross overstatements of environmental and health benefits and distorted for the public the mandate’s value.
First, the agency’s miscalculation overstated the costs of particulate matter (PM) emissions, a general proxy for air pollution. As the agency has now admitted, its calculations were off by an entire decimal point on their calculations of the PM tailpipe emissions rates. The result is a significant distortion of the proposed rule’s effect on PM emissions.
In 2025 the benefits were revised from 20.6 tons of PM emissions avoided to just 2.1 tons. That 10 to 1 ratio is a staggering difference.
Second, the miscalculation had a similar effect on avoided health outcomes. Projections of premature deaths avoided with this new rule fell from as many as 348 lives saved to somewhere between 28 and 65. The differences in these projections are remarkable and the bargain for Minnesota much less viable.
Third, the agency improperly used Cars.com data to allege electric vehicles are unavailable. The Minnesota Auto Dealers Association’s Amber Backus explained in hearing testimony that Cars.com data isn’t accurate. The agency claims car lots in Duluth, Bemidji and Marshall had no electric vehicles available for sale on July 9, 2020, yet dealers affirmed they actually had such cars on their lots for sale. Since those dealers do not advertise on Cars.com, the agency overlooked those vehicles and consequently presented a false picture.
As someone who has devoted my career to prioritizing the reliance on credible data for informing climate-related policymaking, I was concerned to learn about the MPCA’s data miscalculation for the proposed mandate.
Electric vehicles can help address climate solutions, but the MPCA’s miscalculations call into question the mandate’s basis. If the agency made such basic errors in calculating benefits, what other miscalculations lie waiting to be discovered?
At minimum, this rule should be examined by the state legislature with accurate costs and benefits information. Additional scrutiny seems warranted.
Guy F. Caruso is a non-resident senior adviser in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; prior to joining CSIS, he served as administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration from July 2002 to September 2008.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum’s editorial board nor Forum ownership.