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Local lawmakers differ with Walz on Clean Air Act enforcement

State Rep Dale Lueck described the issue as a "cockamamie" distraction to more pressing concerns and multiple lawmakers stated the Walz administration has been bypassing the state Legislature in its push for higher environmental standards.

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“President Trump should order EPA to obey Congress’s long-neglected directive to reduce the toxic compounds in gasoline. By replacing aromatics with cleaner alternatives, the nation will be on the right path to cleaner-burning, less costly fuel,” a Nov. 25 letter by Gov. Tim Walz and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem stated. “Any other approach is the wrong policy for America.” However, local lawmakers took Walz to task in what they've termed a disingenuous or misguided push for environmental restrictions. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch
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In late November, a bipartisan letter from Democrat Gov. Tim Walz and Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem urged the Trump administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce all provisions of the 1990 Clean Air Act — particularly, with regard to reducing gasoline aromatics, or additives with harmful and carcinogenic effects.

The letter may factor into a number of larger debates — whether as part of a push for renewable energy and biofuels, according to Walz, or if it represents political gamesmanship by a governor looking to make an impact on the national stage, according to his critics.

In their letter, Walz and Noem noted Section 202 of the 1990 Clean Air Act that requires the reduction and elimination of harmful gasoline additives is not being enforced, despite the development of cost-effective substitutes including high-octane biofuels.

“President Trump should order EPA to obey Congress’s long-neglected directive to reduce the toxic compounds in gasoline. By replacing aromatics with cleaner alternatives, the nation will be on the right path to cleaner-burning, less costly fuel,” the Nov. 25 letter stated. “Any other approach is the wrong policy for America.”

Local state lawmakers — all of them members of the Republican Party, including Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa — expressed varying degrees of disagreement with the letter. They cited it as an issue of unrealistic and heavy-handed bureaucratic goals, or a distraction from more important problems, such as the developing revelations of widespread fraud and malfeasance in the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

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The Dispatch spoke with Gazelka, as well as state Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, and state Reps. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin; Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa; and John Poston, R-Lake Shore.

Roll call

In an email, Heintzeman stated he wasn’t sure if Walz’s push would pan out, but acknowledged practical changes or advancements in technology could be a boon for environmental concerns.

Heintzeman has repeatedly declined to comment other than by email, citing a discomfort with face-to-face or phone interviews.

“This issue is not one that has received much discussion in the House since I've been in office. (Minnesota) is meeting federal air quality standards and air quality in the lakes area has been good as well,” Heintzeman wrote Thursday, Dec. 12. “I'm not sure that the governor’s letter supporting more enforcement and stricter rules will have the impact they're looking for but if fuel blends can be changed in a way that benefits the environment while still maintaining high quality and affordability it wouldn't hurt to further research the potential benefits.”

During a phone interview Friday, Dec. 13, Ruud said the issue of gasoline additives and their restrictions is largely a federal one and has little connection to her role as a state senator.

However, in terms of environmental regulations and initiatives, Walz has opted to push his agenda through state agencies and Twin Cities metro-centric task forces, she said, with little collaboration with the state Legislature or members of the Greater Minnesota community.

Whether it’s biofuels or a push to establish an electric car market in Minnesota, Ruud said, it’s been a one-sided discussion.

“This isn’t anything that’s come over our plate at all,” Ruud said. “The governor doesn’t involve us in anything. We’re kinda rocks and cows out here in Greater Minnesota, so he’s putting together task forces and doing climate stuff by rule, but he doesn’t involve us. I didn’t even know he was sending a letter to President Trump.”

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Lueck took issue with the topic of restrictions on gasoline additives, describing the discussion as a “cockamamie deal” and irrelevant to north-central Minnesotans while allegations of fraud in the Minnesota Department of Human Services climb over $100 million.

In short, he criticized what he deemed as Walz’s false posturing, or the governor’s propensity to make grand actions on the national stage when he should be concentrating on pressing domestic issues that “directly impact the people of central Minnesota.”

“Frankly, it would be really nice if our governor focused on the 35,000 state employees he has and, in particular, on people in leadership roles in the Department of Human Services,” Lueck said. “He simply needs to stay home and learn how to be a chief executive. He needs to concentrate on his own agencies.”

Poston said the intentions of the Walz administration are generally solid, but its unrealistic goals may lead agencies to strongarm local residents and municipalities in an effort to meet them. While Republicans and Democrats have similar goals and concerns, he added, they often differ greatly in how to go about making positive steps.

“We’re all concerned about the environment,” Poston said. “Where I differ a little bit with our governor is how quickly he wants to get us to the finish line on some of these things.”

Gazelka echoed Lueck in his desire to see Walz focus more on Minnesotan issues versus those national in scope. He noted Minnesota is among the leading states in the nation for environmental protections and emissions, while 30% of its energy is renewable.

However, during last year’s polar vortex, much of the green and renewable energy infrastructure proved unable to contend with Mother Nature for more than 5%, he added, which served to illustrate the need to produce energy that’s not only environmentally positive, but energy that’s practically sound.

Walz is escalating the process, Gazelka said, and doing so by bypassing the Legislature to implement his changes through rule changes among the state’s agencies.

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“We all want clean energy, but where I draw a distinction is that I want energy that’s affordable and reliable,” Gazelka said. “Whether it’s gas for driving your cars or heating your home, I want to focus on clean forms of energy, but recognize that people want renewable energy, they also want to heat their house.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at gabe.lagarde@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .
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