The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled earlier this week that Minnesota must pay North Dakota more than 1.3 million dollars in costs and attorney fees.
North Dakota incurred the costs and attorney fees in its suit again Minnesota over a 2007 Minnesota law barring utilities in that state from buying power from new plants that emit carbon dioxide. North Dakota has six coal-fired electric generating plants that export most of their electricity to other states including Minnesota.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem sued Minnesota in 2011. In the suit, Stenehjem said the Minnesota law attempted to regulate out-of-state utilities in violation of the Commerce Clause of the U. S. Constitution. The Commerce Clause is Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” The lawsuit was based on the claim that Congress, not the legislature of Minnesota, has that power.
In earlier rulings, the federal courts agreed with North Dakota on the substance of the case. The ruling this week allows North Dakota to recover its expenses in the suit.
Joining the State of North Dakota in the suit were rural electric utilities and energy companies who serve the needs of consumers in the upper Midwest. They said that, left in place, the Minnesota law would have restricted North Dakota utilities from selling power into the Midcontinent Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO) market – hurting businesses and customers in both Minnesota and North Dakota.
On news of the victory in the 8th Circuit, Stenehjem said:
North Dakota maintained from the beginning that the Minnesota enactment attempting to prohibit importation into Minnesota of energy generated in North Dakota was a violation of the US Constitution and federal law. Our arguments have prevailed every step of the way. Now, I hope that Minnesota will finally pay the bill for the expense they caused us to incur, and end the matter.
The victory this week is the most recent demonstration that Wayne Stenehjem is a highly effective attorney general for the state of North Dakota.