Associated Press, Published October 19 2013
Judge weighs North Dakota challenge to Minnesota coal power lawST. PAUL – A federal judge is weighing the constitutionality of a Minnesota law that North Dakota says unfairly blocks its utilities from exporting electricity from coal-fired power plants.
The 2007 Next Generation Energy Act, to promote renewable energy use, effectively bars utilities in Minnesota from importing coal-generated electricity from new plants or from building coal plants to serve customers in that state.
Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Gary Cunningham told U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson during a hearing Thursday that the law is a wise policy because it promotes renewable energy and protects Minnesota customers from the risks of higher future costs from regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
But Thomas Boyd, an attorney representing North Dakota, said the law violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by attempting to regulate interstate commerce. He said only the federal government has the authority to regulate the wholesale energy market. He also said it discriminates against North Dakota’s utilities and its coal industry.
In a sign of the case’s importance, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem traveled to St. Paul to sit in on the oral arguments, although Boyd argued the case.
Environmental Defense Fund attorney Sean Donohue cautioned Nelson against striking down the law outright, saying many other states have similar renewable energy standards and that states have traditionally had a say in what type of energy is used within their borders.
Minnesota attorneys and environmental groups argued that North Dakota’s concerns should be addressed first by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which has authority to interpret how it’s applied.
Nelson called the law “unprecedented” and “difficult to understand” but declined to speculate on the outcome.
The judge took the case under advisement. She could strike down the law, throw out the lawsuit or let the case proceed to trial.