Senate GOP leader says MPCA commissioner could face removal over proposed clean-car rule

The pollution control agency in December said it would move ahead with new emission standards.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop was first appointed in January 2019.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Friday signaled that if the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency presses ahead with its implementation of a new car emission standard modeled after California, the Senate may remove Laura Bishop as commissioner of the agency. 

The MPCA last month proposed a rule that would require automakers to increase the number of electric vehicles they deliver to Minnesota auto dealers, drawing strong criticism from Republican lawmakers. 

The Minnesota Senate, led by Republicans, has pushed back against the rule change, saying it would drive up costs on all cars sold in the state. They also say electric vehicles would fare poorly in Minnesota’s cold winters.

In an interview with the Reformer, Gazelka said he has already put Bishop on notice within the past month. 

“I will say that I have had a conversation with Commissioner Bishop that I felt like moving forward with California emission standards (and) bypassing the legislative process was beyond what her authority is,” he said. “There has been a conversation; I’ll just say that.”

Senate Republicans have a lengthy list of commissioner confirmations outstanding, including Bishop’s, which Gazelka said are currently “on hold.” But he said the Senate would act if Republicans felt commissioners were acting beyond the scope of their roles.

“It’s mostly about whether they’re doing their job or not,” Gazelka said. “Whether they’re bypassing the legislative process on issues that really should go through the legislative process.”

Last summer, Senate Republicans ousted two commissioners: former Commerce Commissioner  Steve Kelley and former Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink.

“The two commissioners that we removed, both of them, we had multiple warnings with the governor’s office about the fact that they weren’t doing their job,” he said. 

Bishop, who was a former chief sustainability and corporate responsibility officer for Best Buy, was appointed to the post in January 2019 by Gov. Tim Walz. 

Teddy Tschann, a Walz spokesman, criticized Gazelka’s remarks.

“Paul Gazelka can’t fire everyone he disagrees with,” Tschann said. “This Trumpian style of partisan, chaotic governing needs to end.”

The governor’s office also defended the agency’s rule-making power, pointing out the MPCA has power to regulate pollution.

The car emission standard has also received praise from Consumer Reports, a consumer advocacy nonprofit that publishes product testing reviews and investigates consumer safety issues.

“Consumer Reports supports state adoption of low and zero emission standards because they save drivers money on fuel, improve the kinds of vehicles consumers already like to drive, and increase buying options for consumers at their local car dealerships,” the publication wrote in 2019.

Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, blasted the potential threat of removing a member of Walz’s cabinet over a policy dispute, saying it would set a bad precedent.

“It makes it hard for us to bring qualified people in if they feel like their appointment is going to be held as a political hostage,” she said. “We’ve all had a really vivid experience recently about the dangers of violating political norms and traditions.”

Kent said that past moves by a DFL-controlled Senate to reject commissioners “has been for legitimate questions about that person’s ability to successfully do that job.”

State Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, has introduced legislation that would automatically confirm a commissioner if the Senate has not acted to reject an appointment within 60 days. The bill has not been acted on.

Darin Broton, an MPCA spokesman, in a statement defended the agency’s effort to implement new emission standards.

“Commissioner Bishop is advancing climate solutions using processes set by the legislature that help Minnesota meet its climate goals approved by a bipartisan legislature and signed into law by a Republican Governor,” Broton said. “Minnesota is not on track to meet these goals. Minnesotans have consistently said that addressing the growing climate crisis should be a top priority. Minnesotans want policies that protect their communities, businesses and farms, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Bishop has previously faced questions about her job performance during a committee hearing last summer, but that ended with lawmakers saying they looked forward to working with Bishop. 

*A previous version incorrectly stated who the clean car standard applies to. It applies to automakers.

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.