It turns out Minnesota will not appeal a federal appellate court’s decision to quash part of the state’s 2007 clean energy law, conceding a victory to North Dakota and officially ending a five-year legal battle.
A three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in June upheld a lower-court ruling that the Minnesota law, known as the Next Generation Energy Act, illegally regulates out-of-state utilities by restricting electricity imports from power plants that increase greenhouse gases — for example, coal generators.
About a week after the ruling, Gov. Mark Dayton said the state would appeal, asking for a “rehearing.” Usually, that means a review by the entire Eighth Circuit bench, which has more than 12 judges. But such hearings are difficult to get accepted.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission said on Monday that the state has decided against an appeal.
“Although we strongly disagree with the court’s ruling,” the agencies said in a statement, “Minnesota has made significant gains with strong energy and environmental initiatives other than the specific provision of the law at issue in this case.”
That specific provision essentially put a moratorium on energy shipments from coal-fired power plants built in the late 2000s or beyond. North Dakota, more dependent on coal than Minnesota, argued that the law limited the abilities of its power plants to sell electricity. It sued Minnesota in 2011.
Since the 2007 law was passed, however, Minnesota hasn’t had to enforce the greenhouse gas provision, “nor is it likely to in the future,” the Minnesota agencies said.
While Maple Grove-based Great River Energy opened a coal-fired plant in Spiritwood, N.D., in 2011, the more energy-efficient plant was exempted from Minnesota’s clean energy law the year it opened.
Essentially, with its legal options limited, Minnesota is betting coal is dead as far as any new power plant construction.
In April 2014, U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in St. Paul enjoined Minnesota from enforcing the coal moratorium, calling it “extraterritorial legislation.” The three appeals judges each shot down the law, each based on a separate opinion.
Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003