Minnesota Pollution Control commissioner resigns ahead of Senate vote

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop (FOX 9)

Minnesota Pollution Control Commissioner Laura Bishop resigned Tuesday ahead of a Senate vote to fire her.

Republicans who control the Senate informed Gov. Tim Walz that Bishop would not be confirmed, and Bishop submitted her resignation to ensure a smooth transition at the agency, a Walz spokeswoman said.

"I will not allow the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to be politicized. The work is too important," Bishop said in an emailed statement.

Deputy Commissioner Peter Tester will serve as the agency's temporary commissioner.

Senate Republicans scheduled confirmation votes for four Walz commissioners after extending a special session that many lawmakers thought was over last week when they avoided a government shutdown by passing a $52 billion state budget.

The others are: Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Commissioner Mark Phillips, Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho, and Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen.

Bishop was on shakiest ground with Republicans because she is implementing tougher vehicle emissions standards that the GOP opposes.

"There was a number of issues that just kept bubbling up and it was more political than anything," Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said a videotaped statement. "And so we felt like we had to address it."

The Senate quickly confirmed Phillips on a voice vote Tuesday along with another Walz appointee who is not in the governor's cabinet, School Trust Lands Director Aaron Vande Linde.

Strommen received bipartisan praise during a Tuesday hearing, making her confirmation a safe bet. Ho faced questions about the slow rollout of Minnesota's federally funded rental assistance program, but no senators attacked her job performance.

Senate Democrats unsuccessfully moved to end the special session to avoid the confirmation votes. Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Senate DFL Leader Susan Kent questioned if gender was a factor.

"I think it’s sort of interesting. We’re going to take up a couple of unobjectionable men today and then we’re going to take up a few women tomorrow they seem to have an issue with," said Kent, DFL-Woodbury.

The Senate has confirmed just four of Walz's 24 commissioners more than two years into his term. That means the rest could face a Senate vote at any time, something Kent called "an abuse of the process."

The Senate removed two Walz commissioners in 2020 -- Labor Commissioner Nancy Leppink and Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley.

Asked about the Senate's strategy of holding commissioner votes, Gazelka said "It is an accountability issue. It’s the one thing we have to hold the governor accountable."