The Potluck

Gov. Tim Walz struggling to recruit a pollution control commissioner

By: - August 27, 2021 3:21 pm

A march across the Lowry Avenue Bridge, protesting air pollution from the Northern Metal Recycling facility in north Minneapolis, Minnesota, on September 7, 2016.

Gov. Tim Walz extended a deadline for applicants seeking to become commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, a key appointment amid a host of contentious environmental issues facing the state.

Laura Bishop, Walz’s first MPCA commissioner, resigned earlier this summer rather than be sacked by the Republican-controlled state Senate, which has failed to confirm nearly all of Walz’s commissioners even though most have served since early 2019.

The GOP majority voted down the confirmations of former Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink and former Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley, essentially firing them after roughly 18 months on the job.

Teddy Tschann, Walz’s deputy chief of staff, confirmed that the Senate’s hardball on confirmations is dampening enthusiasm of would-be job applicants.

MinnPost reported that Senate Majority Paul Gazelka, R-E. Gull Lake, called Bishop last year and urged her to issue permits for the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline. Bishop’s career fate rested in Gazelka’s hands even as he was urging her to help the Canadian oil company.

Republicans in the Senate are also still smarting from MPCA rulemaking mandating tougher auto emission standards and will likely take a tough line with any new appointee.

The agency faces a host of important and politically fraught issues, including the future of sulfide mining in northern Minnesota; water quality amid agriculture pollution; the fate of mega farms; and, air pollution, especially among low income populations that suffer higher rates of asthma and other brochial diseases.

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and toddler son.