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Court rejects Minn. limits on importing coal-fired energy; N.D. declares victory

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A federal court ruled Friday that part of Minnesota's renewable energy law is unconstitutional.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson rejected Minnesota's restrictions on the ability of utility companies to import electricity from new coal-burning power plants in other states.

Judge Nelson ruled that the energy market crosses state lines and that the commerce clause of the Constitution specifies only Congress may regulate interstate commerce.

As the Star Tribune explains, North Dakota along with utility and coal companies in that state had filed a lawsuit challenging Minnesota's Next Generation Energy Act of 2007. They argued the law unfairly limited their ability to sell coal-generated electricity.

After Judge Nelson's ruling, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told the Star Tribune: "It is a complete victory for us." Stenehjem tells the newspaper North Dakota hopes to build new coal plants – although other hurdles will need to be cleared.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued a statement promising an appeal of Friday's ruling and vowing that his administration will "...oppose North Dakota's intentions with every means at our disposal."

Minnesota's law was signed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Dayton notes that it does not forbid new coal-fired plants from selling in Minnesota. Rather, he says, it requires that carbon emissions from those plants be offset by equal reductions in emissions from other plants.

Nonetheless, Nelson ruled the law improperly requires North Dakota utilities to seek approval from Minnesota to do business, the Associated Press reports.

MPR News reports Nelson's ruling leaves other provisions of the law in place. Those mandate energy conservation measures and set the goal of generating 25 percent of Minnesota's energy from renewable sources by 2025.

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