Minnesota Republicans still want to stop Clean Power Plan work

While Minnesota continues moving forward on the Clean Power Plan, some Republican lawmakers said Thursday that they may continue trying to hit the brakes.

State Sen. David J. Osmek, a Republican from Eden Prairie, told a packed audience at the Environmental Initiative’s annual legislative preview that Minnesota should stop planning for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to halt the Clean Power Plan while cases against it move through lower courts should have led the state to stop investing time and money in shaping an approach to it, he said.

Continuing to plan for the law “is wrong, absolutely wrong,” said Osmek, who advocates that decision should come from the legislature.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, a Republican who chairs the House energy committee, said he thought the EPA had punished the state by setting high targets for the Clean Power Plan despite Minnesota’s many investments in renewable energy.

Last month a group of Republican legislators asked the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to stop spending taxpayer money on anything involving the Clean Power Plan until it is upheld. The department continues to hold meetings around the state to seek input from citizens and other stakeholders about the plan, with support from Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat.

MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine sent a letter in response to the Republicans’ request, outlining $800 million per year in health impacts from fossil fuel emissions and saying “there is no guarantee that states will be given any additional time to prepare and submit their plans” should a federal court uphold the Clean Power Plan.

Whether anything concrete will come out of Minnesota’s divided legislature (Republicans control the House, Democrats control the Senate) is unclear. Democratic Sen. John Marty predicted that “not anything big” will happen in the 10 week session and instead legislators will be preparing a framework for “the years ahead.”

Garofalo also raised a concern about utilities in other states replacing nuclear power with new natural gas plants – a move that could increase greenhouse gas emissions in the long term.

His point is related to a request made by Xcel Energy to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to embark upon an 18-month long study to look at closing Prairie Island nuclear plant before the end of is 2034 operating license.

Xcel has cited rising costs as a reason for closing early Prairie Island, which opened in 1974, although no decision by the PUC on the study has been made. Xcel owns the only other nuclear plant in Minnesota and it could meet the same fate, he suggested.

“The carbon-free nuclear fleet could be replaced,” Garofalo said.

Transportation remains a major source of greenhouse gases, added Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble. By investing in transit carbon will be reduced, he said, pointing out that bus rapid transit vehicles carry 25 percent of all passengers during rush hour on the I-35W corridor from downtown Minneapolis to Burnsville.

Another lane and half would have to be added to the highway to absorb all those commuters if they traveled in cars, Dibble said.

Dibble also said he would like to see Minnesota lower barriers for rooftop solar that prohibit third party developers. “I think we’ll be forced to do this by constituents and the marketplace,” he said.

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