New Minnesota senator Tina Smith eyes green focus

Source: Kellie Lunney, Geof Koss and Manuel Quiñones, E&E News reporters • Posted: Thursday, January 4, 2018

Tina Smith, Minnesota’s new senator, is looking to continue her advocacy on environmental issues from Capitol Hill.

“In Minnesota, I worked very hard to extend the renewable energy standard to 50 percent by 2030. It’s a clean jobs opportunity for my state,” Smith told E&E News.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) appointed Smith after Al Franken announced his resignation following sexual harassment allegations. Vice President Mike Pence swore her in yesterday.

“We have 57,000 clean energy jobs and I think it is a way to make our economy work better, and so that’s something I’m very interested in,” Smith added.

Asked whether she was interested in serving on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Smith smiled, but didn’t commit to anything.

“I’m still getting my feet wet,” she said. “It’s an honor and I’m ready to get to work.” She noted she was not overwhelmed by the day but found it “invigorating.”

Aides with her noted committee assignments are still being figured out. “We are waiting just as eagerly as everybody else is,” an aide said.

Franken served on the panel as did former Alabama Republican Sen. Luther Strange. Democrat Doug Jones officially replaced Strange yesterday after winning a contentious special election last month over Republican Roy Moore.

With Democrats controlling one more seat in the Senate, committee ratios may change. But an aide to Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said that was still in talks.

Seniority numbers, however, are final. Smith is coming in as 99th followed by Jones at 100.

Smith is planning to run for a full term later this year. Jones will have to run for re-election in 2020, with his term expiring the following year.

It’s unclear how active Jones will be on energy and environmental issues. He did not respond to questions about the issue.

During the campaign, Jones touted being the son of a steelworker and grandson of a coal miner. At the same time, he asserted his belief in climate change and the need to boost renewable energy.

Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for governmental affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, cheered Smith and Jones. The group spent more than $300,000 backing the Alabama Democrat.

“With the most anti-environmental president in our nation’s history in the White House, it’s more important than ever that the Senate continues to provide a green firewall of defense,” said Sittenfeld. “We’re confident that Senators Jones and Smith will do just that.”

Reporter Nick Bowlin contributed.