Stenehjem keeping watch on Minn. energy law

Jessica M. Karmasek Dec. 8, 2010, 1:00pm


BISMARCK, N.D. (Legal Newsline) - North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says he is waiting to see if a Republican-controlled Minnesota Legislature will repeal energy legislation that he says could hurt his state's coal industry.

Stenehjem is waiting for any action before deciding whether to sue the neighboring state's officials. The law at issue is Minnesota's Next Generation energy legislation, passed in 2007.

The legislation requires Minnesota utilities to provide 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. The state must also, starting in 2012, consider the possible future cost of carbon when planning their future power generation sources.

Stenehjem told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead on Monday that he would like to see the Minnesota Legislature repeal the latter, at least. It almost was last year, but the effort died in the House with a tie vote.

The North Dakota attorney general points to his state's lignite industry and its coal-fired electricity exports.

Lignite, which is often referred to as brown coal, is a soft brown fuel with characteristics of both coal and peat. It has a high content of volatile matter, which makes it easier to convert into gas and liquid petroleum products.

According to the Lignite Energy Council, about 79 percent of lignite coal is used to generate electricity, 13.5 percent is used to generate synthetic natural gas, and 7.5 percent is used to produce fertilizer products.

North Dakota's own lignite industry means billions in total economic benefits, and its lignite-based power plants help keep the state's power costs low, the energy council reported.

Stenehjem tells The Forum that Minnesota's laws on carbon emissions violate the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause. The clause prohibits states from interfering in other states' commerce.

Any restrictions on carbon, he told the newspaper, should come from the federal level.

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