ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota senators voted Thursday to lift restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from coal production, with supporters of the bill calling it a necessary step to keep up with growing energy needs.

The Senate voted 42-18 in favor of scrapping what supporters said has amounted to a moratorium on both new coal plants in the state and purchase of energy produced by new coal plants in neighboring states. Several Democrats joined all the chamber’s Republicans in voting to lift the restrictions.

The bill undoes a key provision from a package of bills the Legislature passed and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed in 2007 that was intended to boost the state’s investment in renewable energy. But the bill’s chief sponsor said the coal provision was unpopular at the time with many supporters of the larger set of reforms.

“We have a base-load energy need and a situation going forward,” said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont. “Man cannot live by renewable energy alone. I like renewables, I encourage them. I live in a land of renewables, but we still need that base-load energy.”

Several Democrats who voted no said the restrictions help keep Minnesota’s environment cleaner and that making coal more of a priority in the state’s energy mix could damage efforts to create jobs and industry tied to renewable energy.

Money Minnesota utilities spend on energy produced by burning coal in other states amounts to “dollars out of our communities, dollars out of our pockets we could otherwise use to build homegrown and distributed sources of energy in Minnesota,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “It would unwind a tremendous amount of economic progress we’re making and could still continue to make.”

Dibble acknowledged concerns about growing energy needs down the road but said there’s no indication it will be a problem in the near future. “There’s no huge, pressing need for this,” Dibble said.

Sponsors of the bill said the immediate impetus is to allow Minnesota’s Great River Energy company to sell to Minnesota customers power that’s generated by a new plant under construction in North Dakota. The company is not allowed to do so under the restrictions in current law and top state officials in North Dakota, including the governor, have urged Minnesota lawmakers to drop the restrictions.

Environmental groups have lined up against the bill, saying it would take the state backward in energy production. “It doesn’t make sense to encourage more dirty energy while we accelerate smart investment in clean energy,” said Michael Noble, executive director of St. Paul-based Fresh Energy, which promotes renewable development.

The bill’s House counterpart has been approved by a committee in that chamber but awaits a vote of the full membership. If the two chambers can agree on a bill, it will land on Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk. When asked about the legislation Thursday, the governor did not commit to signing or vetoing it, but did express support for the totality of the 2007 changes.

“There’s no reason why we can’t in Minnesota continue to have the electricity and the energy we need at affordable prices, but in a cleaner, more responsible way,” Dayton said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (12)
  1. Robert Moffitt says:

    This is a terrible idea. Gov. Dayton should veto this bill.

    1. Victim Du Jour says:

      So middle east oil, and bombing Muslims is better for the environment?

      1. MARK says:

        So oil from the Mideast and coal are the only two options? How about we look for a third option instead of buying oil from states that support terrorism or digging up and burning coal at the cost of the clean air we breath?

      2. Robert Moffitt says:

        We don’t burn oil to make electricty in Minnesota, and this legislation does notthing to increase our energy independence. We have to import every piece of coal burned in state. We don’t need any new plants, certainly not dirty, coal-fired plants. This bill should die.

  2. TF says:

    This is a fantastic idea that will help to provide more affordable reliable energy for the state of Minnesota. Hopefully this will make it past Dayton.

  3. WHAT????? says:

    Maybe we should lift the bans on factory dumping as well. I got it, maybe we should allow farms to dump the waste of their livestock in lakes and rivers too. We should all just take the power companies word for it and believe that there is such a thing as “clean coal” as they do not stand to gain anything if they can make 6 more plants and do not have to pay for the scrubbers or anything that will help clean the emissions that they produce. Do not get me wrong, I do not buy into the “global warming” but I do know that coal plants do have a lot of pollutants that they make. I await all of you conservative know it all posters that will want to call me liberal and that I am spewing propaganda for Obama, but before you do know that I am a conservative, I would just like to have at least half a planet to give to my grandchildren when I die.

  4. Jon says:

    Lift the nucler ban as well please. It is our best option. Stick the plant way up north. Perfect earthquake free state to have it in.

    1. Lynda Morrison says:

      It also happens to be the starting place of the Mississippi River Smart One..

  5. helper says:

    All I can say is Thank You Mr Dayton for your VETO!

    Why are all repubs such imbeciles?

  6. Chris says:

    What? An educated Republican? Probably from an eastern ivy league school. This wonder-wart has even figured out how to spell the word “f**k” phonetically. His intelligent remark aside, yes, lift the ban on nuclear power if and when necessary. We may need an energy carry-over until adequate energy alternatives have been developed. By the way, nuclear facilities on the Mississippi River have been well managed for years and the technology is better today than when those plants were constructed many, many years ago. Japan sadly made several several serious design flaws in an unforgiving environment.

  7. Whitney AIA says:

    Nuclear might be a good idea someday, but not now. We currently have over 70,000 tons of radioactive waste in temporary storage throughout the country with no idea what to do with it. Been growing that pile for over 50 years with not a clue about how to handle the waste, Amazingly short sighted.

  8. Shelly L says:

    This is a tragedy for our lakes, rivers and our health. Dayton should veto this !! It’s a no-brainer. We need to invest in renewable energy, and not ethanol either. Wind and solar!
    It’s like we keep going backwards instead of forwards. Coal is so 19th century. If we keep using coal the land and water will be trashed for future generations. Don’t these senators have any concept of the future? Don’t they have any kids? Don’t they care?

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