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Originally published in the April 2023 issue of Bench & Bar of Minnesota Environmental Law Update, Minnesota State Bar Association.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion upholding the MPCA’s adoption of new vehicle emission standards across the state. See Minnesota Auto. Dealers Ass’n v. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, No. A22-0796, 2023 WL 1094143 (Minn. Ct. App. Jan. 30, 2023). The federal Clean Air Act (“CAA”) generally gives power to the federal government to establish and regulate standards for emission from new motor vehicles. The CAA also includes a carve out, allowing states to instead implement California’s generally more stringent standards than those established by the U.S. EPA.

In 2019, the MPCA commenced rulemaking proceedings to adopt the more stringent California emission standards, and in 2021, adopted the Clean Car Rule (“CCR”) implementing these standards. The CCR applies to new motor vehicles beginning with the 2025 model year. New motor vehicles sold in Minnesota will need to comply with California’s air pollutant emission standards and meet requirements for zero emission vehicles. The CCR also allows for the amendment of Minnesota standards as they may be amended in California.

In June 2022, the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association (“MADA”) challenged the CCR. MADA claimed (1) the CCR constituted an unconstitutional delegation of rulemaking; (2) MPCA did not have the authority to adopt emission standards on a statewide basis; and (3) Minnesota was ineligible to adopt California’s emission standards under the CAA.

The court found MADA’s first theory unavailing. The court reasoned that MPCA has broad authority to prevent pollution and manage Minnesota’s air quality. MPCA has authority to adopt air quality standards, “including maximum allowable standards of emission of air contaminants from motor vehicles,” as well as adopt rules and standards to prevent, abate, or control air pollution. MPCA was “well within its authority when it incorporated by reference existing California regulations into the [CCR].”

The court also found MPCA was statutorily authorized to adopted statewide emission standards. In performing its statutory analysis, the court found Minn. Stat. § 116.07 allows MPCA to establish air quality standards having a statewide effect. Specifically, subd. 4 provides “Any such rule or standard may be of general application throughout the state.” The plain language of this statute, the court reasoned, allowed MPCA to implement statewide vehicle emission standards.

Finally, the court rejected MADA’s third claim that Minnesota could not opt into the California standards. The court reasoned that Minnesota met Part D of the CAA, requiring plans for “nonattainment areas,” and that MADA’s argument was beyond the scope of review of MPCA’s rulemaking. After rejecting all three arguments from MADA, the court concluded that the CCR is valid in Minnesota.

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