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Minn. lawmakers target coal plant restrictions

By Patrick Condon
Associated Press

St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota legislators are moving to lift state restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from coal production that critics say has amounted to a moratorium on the construction of new coal plants.

Republican-controlled House and Senate committees passed matching bills Tuesday to lift a state law passed just four years ago. The coal plant provision was one piece of a larger series of reforms meant to boost renewable energy production and clean up Minnesota’s environment. The provision passed with bipartisan support and was signed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Under the law, utilities can build and operate new coal plants in Minnesota only if they can offset carbon emissions to a level that they don’t add to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Critics said the options for achieving that offset are so expensive and burdensome they amount to a moratorium on new plants.

Supporters of lifting the moratorium now say it was only in the package at the insistence of Democrats, and that even Pawlenty had reservations but didn’t let them trump the entire reform package.

“We have a chance here to fix something that never should have been part of this law in the first place,” said Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, the chief House sponsor.

Beard said the immediate impetus for lifting the moratorium is to let Minnesota’s Great River Energy company sell to Minnesota customers power generated at a new plant under construction in North Dakota. The company is not allowed to do so under the law.

But Beard and fellow sponsor Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said the larger concern is alternative energy sources such as wind, natural gas and solar power don’t have the potential to meet Minnesota’s energy needs.

Supporters of the moratorium said it’s in place to incentivize power companies to come up with cleaner ways of using coal.

“If to them this is a moratorium, then what they’re saying is they can’t figure out how to do this responsibly,” said Molly Pederson, director of public affairs for Conservation Minnesota.

Margaret Levin, director of the Minnesota chapter of the Sierra Club, called coal power “a bad investment” that would not create jobs in Minnesota as the energy economy shifts to a greater and greater emphasis on renewable energy sources.

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