The head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) resigned Tuesday afternoon amid a bitter political battle between Gov. Tim Walz and majority members of the Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate.
Laura Bishop, who was appointed commissioner of the MPCA by Walz in January of 2019, said in a statement from the governor's office that it was "an honor to serve Minnesotans in this role."
"However, I will not allow the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to be politicized. The work is too important,” her statement continued.
Bishop is referring to the very public quarrel between Walz and Senate republicans, including Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. Last year, under the East Gull Lake republican's watch, the state Senate ousted two of Walz's commissioners — one in an apparent rebuke of the governor's COVID-related emergency powers, the other a response to an agency's efforts to halt the controversial Enbridge Line 3 pipeline construction.
This week, the GOP-controlled Senate — via an extension to its special session activities — planned to hold committee confirmation hearings for Bishop and three other commissioners appointed by Walz. These hearings would be followed by a full Senate vote, either approving or rejecting Walz's selections.
On Tuesday, the governor's office said Gazelka indicated the Senate "is refusing to confirm Bishop’s appointment." If not confirmed, she would immediately be ousted from the job she has held for more than two years.
In response, Bishop chose to resign.
Walz accused Republicans in that chamber of using "taxpayer dollars to play partisan games," and of trying to "politicize an agency charged with protecting Minnesotans from pollution because they refuse to acknowledge the science of climate change."
The governor's news release also described the previous forced removal of two commissioners as "unprecedented" actions.
During Bishop's tenure, the MPCA (as directed by the governor) wrote and began instituting a new rule to establish more stringent emissions standards on new cars and trucks sold in the state. This "Clean Cars Rule" drew the ire of Senate Republicans, who threatened to withhold environmental funding and shut down state parks if the rules weren't scrapped. (The GOP senators dropped those demands from the final budget bill.)
The Minnesota GOP, in a statement, specifically singled out this issue in particular, saying Bishop "unilaterally moved to implement a mandate to model Minnesota's emission standards after California." The party also said Senate republicans, with their removal plans, are "continuing to work in the best interest of our state."
The MPCA under Bishop also gave the green light to Enbridge to start construction on its replacement Line 3 pipeline, with Bishop in a statement saying the agency used sound science and thorough analysis to ensure that necessary safeguards are in place to protect Minnesota’s waters."
She also targeted the growing presence of PFAS "forever chemicals," including pushing for the Legislature to ban the use of PFAS in food packaging by 2024, the MPCA notes in her resignation announcement.
"For many, the agency can never go far enough in our protections, while at the same time, a segment of the Republican caucus will always believe the agency goes too far," Bishop wrote in her resignation letter.
MPCA Deputy Commissioner Peter Tester will step in as temporary commissioner, Walz said, with this office's announcement noting Bishop's resignation will "ensure a smooth and orderly transition in the agency."
"I am proud of her decision to stand firm in her beliefs that climate change is real and to not bend her policies and values in order to get through this disingenuous confirmation process,” Walz said.
The Senate this week is slated to discuss the appointments of:
- Dean Compart for appointment to the Board of Animal Health
- Mark Phillips for Commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board
- Aaron Vande Linde for Director of the Minnesota Office of School Trust Lands
- Jennifer Ho for Commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency
- Sarah Strommen for Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources