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Judge strikes down Minnesota's 'anti-coal' act.

In a clear-cut victory for coal, a federal judge has struck down Minnesota's highly contentious Next Generation Energy Act that attempted to block neighboring North Dakota from sending coal-fired power into Minnesota.

The 2007 law, widely decried as "anti-coal" by coal supporters, was an obvious violation of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution and an example of "overreaching" by Minnesota lawmakers, Minnesota U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson said in her mid-April ruling.

North Dakota coal and electric utility interests praised the judge's decision while Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton denounced it, saying it would be appealed.

The law rubbed some nerves raw in North Dakota, a major energy-producing state for decades. The lignite coalfields in the western part of North Dakota produce nearly 30 million tons of the soft brown mineral annually. Much of the coal is used to fuel power plants in the state, some of which supply electricity to Minnesota.

The North Dakota Lignite Energy Council was among the plaintiffs in the 2011 suit that challenged the law. Other plaintiffs included North American Coal Corp., Minnkota Power Cooperative, Missouri Basin Municipal Power Agency, Great Northern Properties Ltd. Partnership, the Industrial Commission of North Dakota and the state of North Dakota.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the litigation was a "last resort," mounted only after "unfruitful meetings with Minnesota elected officials and regulators." But the suit was necessary, he said, to protect the legal economic interests of North Dakota.

"The result of this litigation has been exactly what we predicted from the beginning," he added. "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."

North Dakota power plants export the vast majority of the electricity they produce to consumers in other states, including Minnesota, he noted. "The Commerce Clause was adopted as a critical part of the U.S. Constitution to prohibit one state from enacting restrictive laws that benefit one state at the expense of another state, which is precisely what this Minnesota statute did," he said. Essentially, that is what Nelson concluded in her 48-page opinion.

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Publication:Coal Age (1996)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2014
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