Watch CBS News

Laura Bishop, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Head, Steps Down Ahead Of Likely Ouster By State Senate

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency stepped down ahead of a vote by Republicans in the state senate that would have likely ousted her from her job.

MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop resigned, Gov. Tim Walz's office announced Tuesday, after Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, notified him that the Senate is "refusing" to confirm her.

Bishop, who served as commissioner for two and a half years, spoke Tuesday evening with WCCO's Erin Hassanzadeh.

"This wasn't how I wanted to leave," Bishop said. "It is hard for me to understand that we're playing politics with the environment."

Walz in his announcement of her departure condemned the Senate Republicans for "choosing to use taxpayer dollars to play partisan games and try to politicize an agency charged with protecting Minnesotans from pollution because they refuse to acknowledge the science of climate change."

"We have heard that Minnesotans want us to act with urgency on climate change," Bishop said.

Her time at the agency was not without its challenges. There was the fire at the Northern Metal Recycling plant in Becker. Pervasive PFAS chemicals are leaking from closed landfills contaminating Minnesota's ground water. And there were repeated issues with companies like Water Gremlin polluting their communities.

"Often a fine isn't a deterrent. How do we reopen those permits perhaps in those cases?" Bishop said.

But she's proud the agency is working to identify PFAS sources, and says more work on environmental justice and emissions regulations is needed.

"It's not mandated that companies have to tell us what chemicals they're using and putting into the air," Bishop said. "It is a problem."

Laura Bishop
Laura Bishop (credit: CBS)

For now, she leaves some advice to the next person in her shoes.

"Don't go into this to please people and please everyone. You have a real mission to act, to improve and protect the environment and human health," Bishop said.

She was slated for a vote by the GOP-controlled Senate Wednesday, along with the commissioners of the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

Unlike the Minnesota House, the chamber hasn't adjourned the special session in order to hold hearings this week on a few Walz appointments to his administration, including Bishop. It's the unique power of the chamber to approve -- or remove -- members of the current governor's administration, and Bishop was one of the three most at risk of firing.

"In the end we have to decide, like an employer, is someone doing their job or not doing their job," Gazelka said of the confirmation process. "If the commissioners decide that they're going to go around the legislative branch, it's the only tool we really have."

The latter part of Gazelka's comments take aim at Bishop, whom Republicans have criticized for her work leading the agency as it moves forward with the "clean cars" emissions rule directing vehicle manufacturers to bring more electric cars to Minnesota in the next few years. In a statement following her resignation, Gazelka said political issues kept "bubbling up" and they had to address them.

The Senate under Republican control has already fired two commissioners in the Walz administration last year, though overall the move is fairly rare: Before last year, there were just six others voted out of their jobs since 2000. Gazelka said the pandemic peacetime emergency and the executive powers it yielded set "a different tone" when it comes to top government officials.

The Senate DFL denounced their GOP counterparts for holding hearings for state agency bosses after the legislature worked overtime in a special session to wrap up the $52 billion state budget.

"The fact that we are extending the special session for this purpose is frankly an abuse of this process," said Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury.

Senate will remain in session until at least Wednesday, when the chamber will vote on Jennifer Ho, commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, and Sarah Strommen, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.

It's unclear what will happen to those two state government officials, though Gazelka said he didn't expect all three -- including Bishop before she stepped down -- to be removed.

Gazelka is also signaling he may be interested in a larger role with the state, telling reporters last week he would take 40 days to consider a run for governor.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.