California has long been a leader when it comes to standards regarding air pollution, and it’s established rules that are more stringent than the nationwide legislation set by the federal government. Over the years, a handful of other states have adopted California’s strict rules regarding tailpipe emissions and zero-emission vehicles. Now two new states are set to join the fold: Minnesota and New Mexico.
- Minnesota and New Mexico will become the 11th and 12th states to adopt California’s zero-emission vehicle mandate.
- Also, they’ll become the 14th and 15th states to adopt California’s tailpipe standards.
- All this comes against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s recent decision to revoke California’s right to set its own vehicle emissions standards, a move that is already being contested in the courts.
In Minnesota, the effort is being led by Governor Tim Walz, while Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is at the forefront of the effort in New Mexico. Both governors are Democrats who were voted into office during the 2018 midterm elections. The move is seen as a rebuke to the Trump administration’s effort to prohibit California from setting its own clean air standards.
To get a sense of where we are today, it’s important to take a look back. California used to have a serious and crippling smog problem. Back in 1970, the Clean Air Act was passed. This allowed the state to set emissions standards that were more stringent than the nationwide rules set by the federal government, and this move was made in an effort to help the state reduce air pollution.
California’s clean air standards have brought tangible improvements in the state’s air quality over the past couple of decades. (Photo: David Mark/Pixabay)
Standards have delivered cleaner air
That effort has brought tangible results. A USC study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, tracked Southern California children over a 20-year period, and it determined that improved air quality in the region has resulted in roughly 20 percent fewer new asthma cases. That research expanded on another USC study that showed a decline in Southern California’s air pollution had caused children’s lungs to grow stronger over the previous two decades and had resulted in a decrease in the rates of bronchitic symptoms. Though Los Angeles is still among the worst in the nation when it comes to air pollution, it’s estimated that improvements between 1993 and 2006 have cut nitrogen dioxide pollution by 22 percent and fine particulate matter by 36 percent.
Up in the air
Last month, the Trump administration announced plans to reverse California’s authority to set its own limits for tailpipe emissions. With a population of almost 40 million, California is by far the most populous state in the nation. This makes it a huge market for car manufacturers, and the government argued that the state’s emissions standards give it disproportionate power over the auto industry. The government also said that it plans to reverse the authority held by other states to establish independent emissions standards.
California has responded by taking the battle to the courts, and the state isn’t alone. More than 20 states, including Minnesota and New Mexico, have joined in a lawsuit to block the Trump administration’s decision.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (L) with California environmental agency secretary Jared Blumenfeld (R). California has led the way in clean air legislation. (Photo: Getty Images)
A clean fight
California isn’t the only state to struggle with air pollution. Minnesota and New Mexico have had problems of their own, and this is a key reason supporting the decision to adopt stricter clean air standards.
In New Mexico, the restrictions are expected to start with model-year 2022 vehicles. The state plans to increase its fuel economy standards to an average of 52 mpg by 2025. Governor Lujan Grisham has said that the current levels of ozone concentration in seven of the state’s counties are cause for concern.
This isn’t the first time that New Mexico has made movement in this direction. The state’s Environment Improvement Board implemented clean air laws in 2007. This was done under the auspices of then-Governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat. These standards were repealed in 2013, after Republican Governor Susana Martinez took office. With a Democrat back in the governor’s mansion, clean air has once again become a priority.
Minnesota’s Governor Walz has stated that he believes the Trump administration will lose the lawsuit that has been filed by the states. His decision to adopt stricter emissions standards stemmed from research conducted by the state’s Department of Transportation (doT). That research has studied ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.
Minnesota’s governor hopes new clean air standards will help boost statewide EV sales. (Photo: Mike/Pexels)
Transportation is the largest source of emissions in Minnesota, mainly because the state’s residents tend to buy large vehicles that have relatively poor fuel economy. Walz believes the new standards will lead to more fuel-efficient cars and help boost the state’s market for electric vehicles (EVs). EV sales have lagged in Minnesota. A report by the state’s DoT asserts that in January of 2019, there were just 19 models of EVs available for sale in Minnesota, while there were 43 models offered in the nationwide marketplace. Walz believes that stricter standards will help broaden the range of EVs sold in the state, and he expects that this will ultimately serve to boost sales.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Air pollution isn’t just about climate change. It’s also a health issue that has undeniable real-word consequences for children and adults. California has blazed a trail with its clean air standards, and more states are expected to adopt these rules as time goes by.