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When I spoke recently with the state Senate Republican who carries his caucus's energy portfolio, he didn't lead with a call for a gas tax holiday. In fact, Sen. Dave Senjem didn't mention the idea until I did — and then, while he didn't say nay, he didn't sound too enthused about it.

"You know, it's a new world, and we've got to get used to it," the 20-year Senate veteran from Rochester said after a telling pause.

Telling, I'd say, because it's rare for a Minnesota Republican these days to pass up a chance to ballyhoo a tax cut proposal — any tax cut proposal. Telling too because Senjem has become a leading voice on energy matters, working with the opposite party (yes, that's still possible!) to spur Minnesota's shift to clean energy.

And telling because his hesitation bespeaks the dilemma confronting politicians throughout the country as the war in Ukraine bleeds on. I detected the same dilemma in President Joe Biden's March 31 release of 1 million barrels of oil per day from the nation's strategic reserve, and in DFL Gov. Tim Walz's call last month for a federal gas tax holiday, joining five other Democratic governors. Walz said he "is open" to temporarily lifting the state's 28.5 cents/gallon gas tax, too.

These politicians know it's past time for the industrial world to turn away from fossil fuels. They know that putting ever more heat-trapping gas into the atmosphere will further damage the planet's capacity to sustain life as we know it.

Yet the ugly war in Ukraine and the pandemic-induced inflation that preceded it have raised gasoline prices to heights that are politically painful, particularly for incumbents seeking re-election. Minnesota's governor is well aware that gas prices, which have lately landed just below $4 a gallon, could go higher in these parts when trips Up North begin in earnest next month.

Politicians must choose. They can seize the moment to tell drivers that it's time to kick their gas-guzzling habit. Or they can try to ease the pain at the pump — and in their approval ratings.

Choosing the latter is so, so tempting in the short term. And it's so damaging in the long term — which isn't as far in the future as many Americans think.

The latest assessment from the world's top climate scientists says that holding average global temperature increases since the start of the industrial age to a crucial 1.5 degrees Celsius will be possible only if greenhouse gas emissions start falling in 2025 — just three years from now — and fall fast after that.

Now, as oil-producing Russia pounds Ukraine, would seem an opportune time to rally America to take a big step away from oil and gas. More than that: it seems a fine time to use state government to help middle- and lower-income Minnesotans afford a shift to clean energy to power vehicles and more.

To his credit, that's much of what Senjem is trying to do as chair of the state Senate Energy and Utilities Policy and Finance Committee.

Gas taxes are not that committee's purview. The Legislature's transportation committees hold that portfolio. But Senjem is promoting bills that would provide a state tax credit for electric vehicle (EV) purchases and a $1,500 tax credit per year to ease the cost of a variety of clean-energy moves. Things like installing an EV battery charger in the garage, replacing gas-powered appliances with electric ones, switching to a heat pump or geothermal furnace, improving home insulation.

He's also keen on beefing up state funding for a popular program started last year to help public schools throughout the state install electricity-generating solar panels, expanding assistance already available to schools that are Xcel Energy customers.

And he'd like to lift the state's longstanding moratorium on new nuclear power plants just enough to allow a willing utility company to pilot a small, new-technology nuclear generator. New mini-nuke plants are being touted as much safer than their 20th-century predecessors. He would like to see that claim tested here.

Senjem concedes that politically, "we're not there yet" on some of his ideas. And he's not the only legislator touting policies that better meet the imperative of this moment than a gas tax holiday would. I'm a particular fan of Wayzata DFL Sen. Ann Johnson Stewart's proposal to give transit riders, not gas buyers, a cost break this summer.

But because Senjem's ideas emanate from someone with a history of bipartisan dealmaking, they deserve particular notice. Regrettably, this election-year legislative session seems unlikely to accomplish much. A lot of policy cans are going to be kicked down the road to 2023 or later. But legislators ought to see that the road that leads to a sustainably livable planet is getting awfully short.

Lori Sturdevant is a retired Star Tribune editorial writer. She is at lsturdevant@startribune.com.