By Oliver Dykstra
Yesterday the Minnesota House’s Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee entertained motion HF72, which was introduced by Rep. Michael Beard (Republican, District 35A) in an effort to rescind the state’s ban on carbon dioxide emissions by utilities — also known as “The Next Generation Act”. In support of repealing The Next Generation Act, Beard said that coal power would go to our “ultimate resource, human beings” while claiming that the Act actually discourages clean energy. He also disputed claims that Minnesota Public Radio has made about his positions.
Advocating for the bill were industry representatives from Lignite Energy, Great River Energy and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, as well as a representative from the St. Paul Building and Trade Council. Their support for repealing The Next Generation Act revolved around keeping all energy options on the table, the need to provide a higher base load of power (they used the same arguments a week ago to advocate for nuclear energy), and the new plant being built in North Dakota. Eric Olsen of Great River Energy concurred that all energy options should be on the table, greenhouse emission regulation should be left to the federal government, and that the ambiguity of the statute makes “determining how to comply with it impossible”.
In turn, Rep. Andrew Falk (DFL, District 20A) questioned Olsen’s claims of offset provision ambiguity, and said “you’re lobbying for nonessential power which ends up raising everybody’s rates”. Meanwhile, Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL, District 08A) commented on the emboldened Republican approach in general. “It seems reform is repeal … The bills that are coming in front of us are repeal, repeal, repeal … Where is the creativity?” Rep. John Persell (DFL, District 04A) expressed concern about approximately 900 pounds of mercury coming into Minnesota per year. The North Dakota plant alone, by his calculations, would add 120 pounds per year. He worried that high mercury levels would poison fish in northern Minnesota. “How in blue blazes are we ever going to get where we can eat the fish again?”
Opponents of the bill are comprised of several constituencies: the Izaak Walton League, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Lung Association, a team of high school students, Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, a Christian environmental group called Restoring Eden and solar business owners. They stressed the importance of creating green jobs and clean energy and the need for conservation and efficiency. Nancy Lang also pointed out the broad, bipartisan support that unfolded around The Next Generation Act, including Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty’s strong backing. Lang clarified that the statute is not a coal moratorium and does not ban new coal plants in Minnesota.