North Dakota leaders ready to spend millions on possible lawsuit against Minnesota

The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill last week that would require utilities in the state to wean off of fossil fuels by 2040. North Dakota officials say the policy would be unconstitutional.

North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley speaks to reporters in his office on Nov. 16, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — A top panel of North Dakota officials has positioned the state to sue Minnesota over a policy targeting electric utilities' carbon emissions.

North Dakota lawmakers have already begun the process of budgeting for a potentially expensive legal battle.

Democrats in the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill last week that would require electric utilities in the state to wean off of fossil fuels by 2040. Gov. Tim Walz announced he will sign the proposal into law on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

The Republican-led North Dakota Industrial Commission voted unanimously Monday to allocate $1 million from a coal research fund for potential litigation against Minnesota and to approve the appointment of special assistant attorneys general to the case.

Gov. Doug Burgum, who chairs the commission, said North Dakota will continue conversations with its neighboring state about making "small changes" to the energy policy that could prevent a lawsuit. But the Republican governor noted that North Dakota is prepared to take legal action if an agreement can't be reached.


“This isn’t about the environment. This is about state sovereignty,” Burgum said.

Minnesota is a major customer for North Dakota's coal, natural gas and oil industries, and losing the North Star State's business would hamper the local energy sector.

North Dakota successfully sued Minnesota over a 2007 law banning the importation of coal power from new sources. A federal judge ruled in that case that Minnesota had violated the U.S. Constitution by regulating commerce in North Dakota.

Attorney General Drew Wrigley, who sits on the Industrial Commission, said Minnesota's latest attempt at green energy policy lands in the same legal territory.

“Our view is their influence in this regard ends at their borders," Wrigley said.

Wrigley declined to say when his office would file a lawsuit, though he noted that Walz signing the bill into law would be "an important event." Wrigley said Minnesota lawmakers can avoid litigation by passing additional legislation that “makes clear that their policy ends at the border.”

Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who also sits on the Industrial Commission, said the Minnesota legislation "seems to be pushing an agenda and disregarding the law."

“I just find it egregious that there would be this type of irresponsible behavior that completely neglects the consumers (and) the constituents,” Goehring said.


Some North Dakota lawmakers aren't waiting for the commission's official word on a potential lawsuit to whip out the checkbook.

Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, introduced an amendment to the Industrial Commission's budget on Monday that would add $3 million to the agency's funds for a lawsuit with Minnesota. Kempenich told Forum News Service he believes Minnesota's policy would be an obvious constitutional violation.

"If they don't want our power, more power to them, but we're going to take them to court on the constitutional grounds of interstate commerce," Kempenich said.

Kempenich's amendment has not yet been finalized within the commission's budget, which must be approved by the House and the Senate.

A spokesperson for Walz did not provide Forum News Service with immediate comment.

Forum News Service reporter Alex Derosier contributed to this report.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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