The Potluck

North Dakota officials threaten to sue Minnesota if it passes 2040 clean energy plan

By: - January 25, 2023 3:43 pm

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. Photo by Stephen Yang/Getty Images.

North Dakota’s governor and other top elected officials on Tuesday threatened a lawsuit in a letter to Gov. Tim Walz and other state officials over Minnesota’s potential move away from fossil fuels.  

Gov. Doug Burgum urged Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen and legislative leaders to amend the bills currently being considered that would mandate 100% carbon-free energy by 2040, or else face the “certainty of a lawsuit.”

The Minnesota House is debating a bill Thursday requiring Minnesota utilities to use only carbon-free energy sources for electricity generation by 2040. This would also ban the state from importing energy originating from carbon sources. The House passed a similar clean energy bill in 2021, but it died in the Senate. A new DFL-majority in the Legislature has given the bill new life, and Walz has said he’ll sign it. 

Minnesota’s neighbor, however, would be displeased. 

North Dakota is one of the nation’s top energy-producing states and relies heavily on natural gas and coal power. On Tuesday, North Dakota’s Industrial Commission — which oversees the state’s utilities, industries and business projects and comprises the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner — said the 2040 clean energy legislation would illegally regulate commerce in North Dakota.

“They could pass whatever legislation they want to regulate themselves,”  Burgum said at the Industrial Commission meeting. “We work well with Minnesota on a number of things, and this is something where if they make a small change, we can avoid the certainty of a lawsuit.”

The threat was first reported by the Fargo Forum. Burgum said during the meeting that the 2040 clean energy legislation echoes a 2007 Minnesota law that banned the state from importing new sources of coal-based energy.

The Industrial Commission at the time filed a lawsuit against Minnesota, arguing that the coal law violated the U.S. Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause by attempting to usurp Congress’ power to regulate commerce between the states. Federal courts ruled in favor of North Dakota, negating the coal law.

The letter sent to Walz said the two 2040 clean energy bills raise similar issues.

“Because our electric grid is fully integrated and does not stop at our state boundaries, these two recently introduced bills as written would subsequently hinder North Dakota utilities,” the letter states.

The North Dakota officials in the letter urged Walz to amend the bills to clarify that they only apply to energy generation within Minnesota, not outside of the state.

House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, is the chief author of the House’s 2040 clean energy bill, and he told the Reformer that it “was unfortunate that North Dakota sent a letter.”

Long said he’s not planning to propose an amendment like the one Burgum suggested, emphasizing that the bill right now has support from many Minnesota utilities.

Clean Power Generation (1)

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.