Diverse new work group sets stage for cleaner transportation in MN

An electric car with its charging port open and a charging cord inserted.

A Clean Transportation Standard in Minnesota could help accelerate the transition to vehicle electrification for everyone. The new working group will set the stage for 2024. Read how all FMR priorities fared this legislative session.

Transportation omnibus bill:

House vote: 69-61
Senate vote: 34-32

While legislation establishing a Clean Transportation Standard via rulemaking didn't come together this session, we were able to get the next best thing

The final transportation omnibus bill (CCR HF2887) includes language establishing a Clean Transportation Standard working group that will study the issue further, and report back with recommendations to policymakers early next year — setting the stage for significant action during the 2024 legislative session.

A Clean Transportation Standard would be a big victory for the climate and a real boon for the Mississippi River. An effective standard has the potential to significantly drive down emissions from transportation fuels (currently Minnesota's number one source of greenhouse gasses). Because climate change impacts water quality in numerous ways, we can't ignore it when pursuing our river health goals.

It can also spur the adoption of new clean-water crops that show real promise for water quality, soil health, habitat and pollinators. It could include, for example, credit bonuses that incentivize soil health practices and continuous living cover crops (such as the clean-water crops winter camelina and pennycress) that produce low-carbon biofuels while protecting our rivers and streams.

We are deeply grateful to the leadership of Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-Mankato) and Rep. Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) for championing the working group this session. 

Details on the working group

The Clean Transportation Standard working group, which FMR looks forward to joining,  will be made up of representatives from an unusually diverse range of sectors (20 in all), including: climate science, environmental, public health, agriculture, auto manufacturers, local governments, environmental justice, tribes, state agencies and more. 

Members will be tasked with studying a Clean Transportation Standard and addressing both the gaps and opportunities for a standard that reduces the carbon intensity of Minnesota's transportation fuels on the following schedule, with reductions based on the 2018 baseline level:

  • 25% reduction by 2030
  • 75% reduction by 2040 
  • 100% reduction by 2050 

The working group will then submit a report by Feb. 1, 2024, based on its findings. It will include recommendations to the chairs and ranking minority members of the Minnesota state legislative committees that have jurisdiction over transportation and energy policy. 

Those findings would then be used to form a Clean Transportation Standard rulemaking process, which would then be brought forward during the 2024 legislative session.

Previous 2023 updates

April 9: Clean Transportation Standard study remains in limbo

Midsession status:

Senate Status: CTS work group included SF 3157a38 amendment
House Status: No action

As we noted earlier this session, a Clean Transportation Standard (CTS) has the potential to significantly reduce emissions from transportation fuels while incentivizing new continuous living cover cropping systems that show real promise for water quality, soil health, habitat and pollinators (see Previous 2023 updates below for more info).

Legislation to initiate a rulemaking process that would establish a Clean Transportation Standard failed to advance this session. Fortunately, we still have an opportunity to move something forward in a meaningful way, setting the table for more concrete progress in 2024.

Creating a Clean Transportation Standard work group

The Senate Transportation Finance Omnibus Bill (SF 3157) included amended language establishing a work group to further develop the contours of a Clean Transportation Standard for Minnesota. 

This work group would be tasked with studying and addressing information gaps and opportunities related to a CTS that reduces the aggregate carbon intensity of transportation fuel supplied to Minnesota over a series of stages: a reduction of at least 25 percent by 2030, 75 percent by the end of 2040, and 100 percent by the end of 2050. 

Members would report back in time for lawmakers to act during the 2024 legislative session.

While we’re glad to see this proposal in the Senate, we are disappointed the House of Representatives did not include this language in its transportation bill. We are hopeful the final compromise between the House and Senate transportation packages will include the current language for establishing the CTS work group. 

As we noted in our recent letter to committee members, we are confident the recommendations that emerge from the work group will guide Minnesota’s efforts to further reduce transportation emissions while providing multiple additional benefits for our state. Those benefits include:

  • Promoting vehicle electrification by rewarding vehicle electrification as a low-carbon fuel pathway that helps accelerate our transition toward an EV future.  
  • Reducing traditional vehicle emissions by gradually lowering the carbon intensity of traditional fuel vehicles that are not going to be electrified.
  • Incentivizing clean-water crops and soil health by establishing credit premiums for cropland-derived biofuels​ produced with continuous living cover cropping systems and with soil health practices, while mitigating indirect land use change.
  • Enhancing environmental justice by addressing important economic and racial inequities embedded in our transportation system.

Feb. 18 Why FMR is working on a Clean Transportation Standard

At FMR, we often work on a variety of local, state and federal policies and incentives that enhance water quality and river health. It’s safe to say transportation policy is not usually in the mix.

This year, things are different. Why? Because a Clean Transportation Standard has the potential to not only reduce transportation emissions, but also dramatically impact water quality, agriculture and environmental justice statewide.

What is a Clean Transportation Standard?

A Clean Transportation Standard (which you might sometimes see shortened to "CTS") is a performance-based incentive program that can reduce climate pollution from all transportation fuels. That includes gasoline, diesel, biofuels and electricity.
 
A Clean Transportation Standard would establish (by rule) a maximum aggregate carbon intensity of Minnesota’s transportation fuel portfolio in any given year. Any transportation fuel provider generating fuels below that carbon intensity level (such as an EV charging station or low-carbon biofuel producer) generates credits. Those credits can be sold to higher-polluting fuel providers (e.g. a refinery). 

Revenue from the purchase of credits also represents an innovative revenue stream that can be used to fund EV infrastructure and rebates for the purchase of EVs — accelerating the transition to vehicle electrification for all.

How would this work in Minnesota?

A Minnesota Clean Transportation Standard would be based on successful efforts already on the ground in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia  — but with some significant upgrades.

The most important improvement: The Minnesota rule would establish a Clean Transportation Standard that reduces the aggregate carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 25% by 2030, 75% by 2040 and 100% by 2050. These goals are more aggressive than other states, but they are still achievable, and better align with greenhouse gas reduction goals set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (The State of Minnesota reinforced its commitment to achieving these goals as part of the Climate Action Framework announced last fall.)

The bill (which is under final development) would instruct the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to lead a rulemaking process that would establish a Clean Transportation Standard in consultation with other state agencies and a diverse stakeholder advisory body.

Why this is important for the Mississippi River

There are four major reasons we’re working on a Clean Transportation Standard for Minnesota.

1. Climate health is river health

Climate change impacts water quality in numerous ways, and can’t be ignored when pursuing our river health goals. Transportation is the number one source of greenhouse gases in Minnesota — accounting for about a quarter of our state’s emissions.

A Clean Transportation Standard has the power to transform the transportation sector by reducing emissions to zero by 2050, which in turn helps protect the river.

2. Reducing cropland runoff

Today, by far the largest source of pollution to the Mississippi River is from cropland runoff, which is heavily influenced by our reliance on annual row crops (such as corn and soybeans) to produce liquid transportation fuels.

By accelerating the transition toward electrification, a Clean Transportation Standard can reduce the need to rely on millions of acres of corn and soybeans for biofuels, opening up new opportunities for cropland conservation and crop diversification.

3.  Promoting Continuous Living Cover

A Clean Transportation Standard can include credit bonuses that incentivize soil health practices and continuous living cover crops (like the clean-water crops camelina and pennycress) that produce low-carbon biofuels while greatly improving water quality and habitat.

4.  Promoting environmental justice

The bill includes language that addresses air quality and public health while directing credit revenue to support transportation electrification for the primary benefit of disadvantaged communities, low-income communities and rural communities — those that are most impacted by the production and use of traditional combustion fuels.

We’re excited to share more details soon

We’re currently working with a large and diverse group of allies and stakeholders to finalize the initial Clean Transportation Standard bill language. 

The best way you can keep up to date is to become a River Guardian. Sign up, and we'll email you when opportunities to support a Clean Transportation Standard are on the horizon.

River Guardians are also invited to special social hours and other events about legislative and metro river corridor issues.

Upcoming Events

Tuesday, June 25, 2024 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Nicollet Island, Minneapolis
New date: Saturday, August 10, 2024 at 5 p.m.
Hidden Falls Regional Park, St. Paul
Wednesday, August 14, 2024 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific & Natural Area, Inver Grove Heights