Gov. Tim Pawlenty – the conservationist

Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently dubbed himself a “conservationist.” Pawlenty points to his backing of a handful of “green” bills during the recently completed legislative session as evidence of his greener side. However, Pawlenty needs to do much more for the environment if he is to legitimately claim the conservationist badge.

Minnesota’s air is getting dirtier every year. Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide emission levels in Minnesota have increased steadily since 1990. Harmful ground-level ozone is reaching federal standard noncompliance levels in the Twin Cities area. There are several actions that Pawlenty could take in an effort to improve the air in Minnesota and enhance the lives of all Minnesotans.

For example, he could encourage more renewable energy use in Minnesota, a measure that would result in fewer emissions of all major air pollutants and improve Minnesota’s air quality. To his credit, Pawlenty recently supported a bill that retains subsidies for small-scale wind power and other renewable energy and mandates some renewable energy use in Minnesota. While this funding helps Pawlenty claim a commitment to clean air, mandating renewable energy to be part of the state’s energy mix has been a policy in Minnesota since the 1990s – Pawlenty cannot claim this initiative as his own. Further, the mandated level of renewable energy use will not change that Minnesota will continue to rely almost exclusively on fossil fuel and nuclear power-generated energy for the foreseeable future.

In addition, Pawlenty could be more supportive of mass transit. Heavy car-orientated commuting in the Twin Cities area is responsible for a significant portion of Minnesota’s air pollution. An ungraded public transit system that includes a network of light rail lines could reduce the area’s dependence on car commuting and help ameliorate Minnesota’s increasingly poor air.

Pawlenty should be commended for his attempts to seriously address environmental issues. However, for him to earn the title “conservationist,” his support for programs that will improve our air quality needs to increase significantly.