North Dakota Industrial Commission moves toward suing Minnesota over carbon-free bill

Source: By Bismark Tribune • Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The North Dakota Industrial Commission voiced unanimous support Monday to move toward filing a lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s carbon-free electricity legislation, with North Dakota’s governor arguing the neighboring state is overreaching.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is expected to sign a bill that requires Minnesota utilities to transition to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. The bill would prevent North Dakota utilities from exporting power generated from coal and gas to Minnesota. North Dakota exports about 50% of its electricity supply, with the vast majority used in Minnesota, according to the North Dakota Lignite Energy Council.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who chairs the state’s Industrial Commission, said state leaders tried unsuccessfully to urge Minnesota to amend the bill so it would not affect North Dakota utility companies. North Dakota officials will continue to work with Minnesota to attempt to reach an agreement to avoid a lawsuit, Burgum said.

“By regulating the percent of electricity sold, they’re essentially overreaching and affecting North Dakota companies,” he said.

Burgum said he supports Minnesota’s efforts to decarbonize, but he said the interstate commerce clause and other areas of law prevent Minnesota’s Legislature from having a say over how North Dakota businesses operate.

“We respect state sovereignty and their ability to regulate their own industries but not their ability to regulate their neighbors,” the governor said.

Burgum noted North Dakota’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, but added that has to be balanced with providing low-cost, stable and reliable electricity.

“I think we all care deeply about clean air and clean water,” he said.

Other members of the Industrial Commission are Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and Attorney General Drew Wrigley.

Goehring said North Dakota wanted to avoid a lawsuit by suggesting an amendment to the legislation. North Dakota leaders advocated for the legislation to apply only to electricity generated within Minnesota.

“I’m a bit frustrated that we have to go down this road,” he said.

Wrigley said North Dakota has prevailed in similar litigation in the past.

The commission met in a closed-door executive session for about 30 minutes to consult with attorneys. Commissioners then directed the appointment of special assistant attorneys general and allocated $1 million from the Lignite Research Fund to pay for litigation. Commissioners also voiced support for a proposed legislative appropriation of $3 million for a lawsuit.

A spokesperson for Walz did not immediately return messages seeking comment.