There is growing concern once again at the Capitol about the depth of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s commitment to his climate-change pronouncements through much of last year as chair of the National Governors Association and as co-chair of the Sen. John McCain’s presidential quest.
The uncertainty over Pawlenty’s intentions — mostly as a result of his administration’s indifference and sometimes opposition to energy bills being considered earlier this year — comes at a time when legislative leaders are gearing up with initiatives to accomplish strict carbon-reduction mandates put in place a year ago.
During the 2008 legislative session, the normally mild-mannered Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, said that Pawlenty’s point person on energy, former Deputy Commerce Commissioner Edward Garvey, was “obstructionist” in dealing with her and her Energy and Utilities Committee.
“The governor has done this dance before, where he’s put a toe out but his follow-through wasn’t there,” said Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Finance Committee. “Basically, there’s been no leadership from the governor on the energy issues for a long time.”
“We need the governor to help move the energy agenda,” said Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, who chairs the powerful House Energy Finance Division.
Next Gen statement in ’07
When Pawlenty eagerly signed the Next Generation Energy Act in May last year, he said: “…We are kick-starting the future by increasing our nation-leading per capita renewable fuel use, boosting cost-saving measures and tackling greenhouse gas emissions.”
As chair of the National Governors Association, Pawlenty called for “bold initiatives” by states to address climate change.
But in February, when a governor’s report was due on how the state would move ahead to meet carbon-reduction mandates of the Next Gen Act, Garvey sent up a “preliminary” report that largely ignored draft recommendations of the governor’s own Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Committee (MCCAG).
Under fire for the report’s weakness, Garvey personally promised Prettner Solon that he would submit a revised report within a few days when he was to testify before her committee.
He didn’t and, according to the senator, in deliberations on energy bills after that Garvey was generally unhelpful and “obstructionist.”
Others had similar reactions to Garvey
Other legislative leaders who worked with Garvey in 2008 sounded similar concerns:
Hilty characterized Garvey’s testimony before his committee as largely exercises in “obfuscation.”
Anderson said that Garvey “is an expert at saying nothing, which is what I think the governor wants.”
When Pawlenty formed the Office of Energy Security (OES) by executive order in January, he named Garvey its director and effectively made him the administration’s point person on energy.
Garvey had said that the governor’s carbon-reduction report would be revised when the MCCAG report was made final, which was in April.
But Garvey never sent up a revised report, which is legally required to outline how the state will meet the mandate for a 15 percent reduction of carbon emissions below 2005 levels by 2015, 30 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. Neither Garvey nor the governor’s office would say when the report, now months overdue, would be submitted.
Two top positions will be open
Then on July 15, Garvey abruptly announced he was leaving state government “for other opportunities.” Earlier, the OES’ No. 2 person, state government veteran Michael Bull, resigned to take a position with a wind-energy group. Bull has not been replaced, and so on Aug. 8 both top positions in the OES will be vacant.
The governor’s office also declined comment on reports that another Pawlenty energy initiative is likely to miss a November deadline. Last November, amid high-visibility fanfare, Pawlenty and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, worked through the Midwest Governors Association to set up an ambitious energy initiative.
Among other things, it would establish a cap on total carbon emissions and a free-market auction mechanism (trade) that would establish monetary carbon value, which would push up the cost of emitting carbon and effectively create incentives to reduce the pollutant.
“It appears to me that the regional governor’s report on cap and trade will not be completed on time without the governor’s personal involvement,” said Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton. She is one of several legislators who are tracking progress of the regional cap-and-trade effort so that it may be legislatively ratified in Minnesota as early as next year.
Lawmakers only funded a study
Knuth and Anderson failed to win support for a cap-and-trade bill in the 2008 Legislature, mainly because lawmakers wanted to first see what comes of the Pawlenty-Doyle regional effort. In the form that passed, the Legislature ordered a $500,000 study of the economic effects of a cap-and-trade system; the report is due in January.
For its part, the governor’s office says nothing’s changed in energy policy and that Pawlenty continues to push the several carbon-reduction initiatives he announced in January.
But while Pawlenty continues to tout what he claims was his initiative for the Next Generation Act and its aggressive carbon-reduction mandates, Anderson doesn’t remember it that way.
“Through deliberations in 2007 and before that, the governor’s office worked with opposition legislators on killer amendments and generally tried to derail the bill,” Anderson said. She added that in an earlier session, when critical votes were needed, the governor’s office sat by as utility lobbyists worked with then House Speaker Steve Sviggim to keep the bill from a House vote.
According to Anderson, the governor’s office and utility lobbyists finally gave way last year when the new DFL majority pushed the bill to a vote and prevailed.
“The Pawlenty administration was not helpful in passing that bill,” Anderson said.
Legislature organizing for energy push
Given the difficulty that legislative leaders say they had with the governor’s office in the 2008 session, plans are being laid to strengthen the Legislature’s hand on energy policy.
Last month, the Electric Energy Task Force (which in January becomes the Legislative Energy Commission) voted to hire its own staff to organize a push at the Capitol for a series of bills to fulfill the Next Gen carbon-reduction mandates and other energy policies.
Hilty said the staff likely would consist of a director to develop an energy policy-agenda and track progress, and experts who can help research energy policy and organize legislative hearings.
The commission will also track progress on the regional cap-and-trade effort and on the economic-effects study by the Commerce Department.
“The next session will be critical to the long-term success of our carbon-reduction efforts and in developing sound energy policy,” Hilty said.
One observer who is deeply involved in energy politics, Bill Grant of the Midwest Office of the Izaak Walton League, said the problem goes beyond Pawlenty.
Grant said the Legislature lost a year in 2008 when it failed to move key energy bills — like the cap-and-trade legislation and one that would significantly reduce automotive emissions, as is being done in California and several other states.
“It takes more than a push from the exec branch,” Grant said. “The Legislature needs to move ahead as well, and in the last session there wasn’t a big appetite to move ahead.”
Indeed, when a critical vote was taken in the Senate Business and Jobs Committee on marquee energy legislation, the so-called California Clean Cars bill, three DFLers joined Republicans in a move that effectively killed the bill. They are Committee Chair James Metzen of St. Paul, Tom Bakk of Cook (who chairs the Senate Tax Committee), and Rod Skoe of Clearbrook (who chairs the Property Tax Division of the Finance Committee).
Ron Way, a former reporter for several Midwest newspapers, covers the environment and energy issues. He can be reached at rway [at] minnpost [dot] com.