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Federal judge strikes down Minn. rules on out-of-state power plants

ST. PAUL — A federal judge has blocked restrictions set by the state of Minnesota that tried to limit businesses in North Dakota and other states from building coal-fired power plants and selling the electricity in Minnesota.

The ruling issued Friday found that Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act, which barred new out-of-state fossil fuel power plants from transporting energy into Minnesota, violated the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The law was passed to regulate carbon dioxide emissions and the creation of fossil fuel energy production by barring any utility in Minnesota from importing energy from an out-of-state, fossil-fuel-powered plant built after Jan. 1, 2007.

The case, filed in 2011 by the state of North Dakota along with several energy industry interests, was heard by Judge Susan Richard Nelson in U.S. District Court in St. Paul.

In a news release, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem applauded Nelson’s ruling.

“This litigation was a last resort, coming only after repeated unfruitful meetings with Minnesota elected officials and regulators,” Stenehjem said. “The result of this litigation has been exactly what we predicted from the beginning. We insisted that the state of North Dakota should not have to seek permission from Minnesota regulators to provide electricity to residents of Minnesota and other states in the region.”

In a statement, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said the state would appeal the ruling.

“I will defend the State of Minnesota’s right to protect the quality of the air our citizens breathe. The State Statute does not prevent anyone from building and operating a new power-generating facility, whose toxic emissions will affect Minnesota’s air quality. It only requires that those new emissions must be offset by the same or greater reduction in emissions from other plants. In other words, Minnesota’s law encourages the replacement of older, more-polluting power plants with more efficient, cleaner facilities.

“In this case, North Dakota operators propose to build new, coal-fired power-generating plants without offsetting emission reductions. Prevailing winds will carry those toxic emissions directly into Minnesota. That shameful practice should not be permitted by either the state or federal government.”

Jason Bohrer, president and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council, a coal industry group, said the legal challenge “has secured a more prosperous future for those who rely on affordable, reliable electricity to sustain this region’s high quality of life.”

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