Minn. governor trusts energy law will survive ND suit threat
Published 6:31 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2023
ST. PAUL — Democratic Gov Tim Walz signed a bill Tuesday that requires Minnesota utilities to get 100% of their electricity from carbon-free sources by 2040, saying he’s confident it will stand up against a threatened lawsuit from coal and gas producing North Dakota.
Republican North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum this week renewed his threat to sue his neighboring state over the requirements. He unsuccessfully tried to persuade Minnesota lawmakers as the bill took shape to make changes to ensure that North Dakota utilities — which export electricity produced from coal and natural gas to Minnesota — would not be harmed.
“I am not a lawyer but I am surrounded by very good ones,” Walz told reporters after signing the bill into law. “I trust that this bill is solid. I trust that it will stand up because it was written to do exactly that. And just to be clear, Minnesota’s not staking our future on coal and carbon.”
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Walz added that he thought it was “unfortunate” that Burgum is ready to litigate, and that it would be more productive if North Dakota joined Minnesota and the rest of the country instead.
“The fact of the matter is, Minnesota is moving into the future and they’re going to have to come sometime,” Walz said.
The Minnesota Senate passed the plan 34-33 along party lines Thursday after the House approved it 70-60 the week before. Republican lawmakers said it would raise costs for consumers while undermining the reliability of the power grid. Rural utilities said they’ll have trouble complying.
According to the Clean Energy States Alliance, 21 other states have already established 100% clean-energy standards or goals, most with target dates between 2040 and 2050. Minnesota’s previous standard, set in 2007, aimed to cut overall statewide greenhouse emissions to 80% by 2050.
“The adoption of 100% clean energy goals by an increasing number of states has been one of the most important energy policy developments of recent years,” Warren Leon, the alliance’s executive director, said in a statement. “Minnesota’s addition to the ranks of those states is especially noteworthy, because the state has historically been a leader in clean energy policy and its new goals are ambitious and meaningful.”
At a meeting of the North Dakota Industrial Commission on Monday, Burgum said the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and other laws bar Minnesota from having a say over how North Dakota businesses operate.
“By regulating the percent of electricity sold, they’re essentially overreaching and affecting North Dakota companies,” the Bismarck Tribune quoted Burgum as saying. The commission allocated $1 million to pay for any litigation and voiced support for asking legislators for $3 million, the newspaper reported.
But Burgum also told the commission — which is made up of him, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring — that officials from their state would continue trying to reach an agreement with Minnesota to avoid a lawsuit, the Tribune reported.
In a letter to their Minnesota counterparts last month, Burgum and the other commissioners said Minnesota’s plan threatens the tax revenue stream from North Dakota’s energy industry that they’re counting on to fund their state’s carbon-capture,hydrogen power and other initiatives to “decarbonize” their energy sources
They also noted that federal courts ruled against Minnesota when North Dakota and its utilities challenged a part of the 2007 Minnesota Next Generation Energy Act that tried to ban importation of power that would increase statewide carbon dioxide emissions from the sector. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said in 2016 that Minnesota could not do that without congressional approval.
San Francisco-based Climate Cabinet Action, a political action committee that backs candidates who support fighting climate change, said Burgum’s threat is part of a new trend of fossil-fuel industry backlash against states or communities that pass pro-climate measures.
“States suing other states for passing pro-climate policy is just another tactic by fossil fuel lobbyists to protect their special interests and their bottom line,” Caroline Spears, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.
The group said those court challenges don’t work, citing a lawsuit by the state of Utah and fossil fuel companies against a San Francisco Bay community that banned the handling and storage of coal and petroleum coke. Under a 2021 settlement, a private port operator in the city of Richmond, California, that handles the fuels was given until 2027 to continue those operations.
And it pointed to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision to bar Wyoming and Montana from suing Washington state for denying a key permit to build a coal export dock that would have sent coal to Asia. The two major coal mining states have sought to boost exports to prop up an industry that’s in decline as U.S. utilities switch to gas-fired power and renewable energy.