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Minnesota presses clean power plan as Supreme Court tells feds to wait

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Gov. Mark Dayton is pushing ahead on his clean power efforts despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering federal authorities to delay plans to cut power plant carbon emissions.

The Clean Power Plan was expected to be a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's environmental legacy. His goal was to burn a lot less coal and boost wind and solar energy by 2030. It was a key promise made during a global climate change conference last year in Paris.

The Supreme Court threw the plan into limbo last month when it told the Environmental Protection Agency to wait. While other governors applauded the move, Dayton and his administration are acting as though the ruling never happened. They say it's important to stay on course to address climate change.

"Preparing for whatever the future holds, with or without an EPA regulation, is what I think I'm hearing would be in Minnesota's best interest," said Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine.

The MPCA is the state agency charged with making the Clean Power Plan work in Minnesota. Stine could have had his staff send out cancellation notices for the public meetings plan and waited until the court case was sorted out. 

Instead, the MPCA added more meetings. One listening session is being held tonight in St. Paul, and next week there are sessions in Minneapolis and Rochester. 

So far, the court delay hasn't led Xcel Energy and other utilities in Minnesota to abandon plans to add more wind and solar power. But the MPCA's decision to plow ahead has drawn fire from Republicans who see the effort as a waste of taxpayer money given the Supreme Court's move. 

"What they are doing, in my opinion, is they are preparing for something that might never be. If that's the case, why are we spending money on it?" asked state Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker. He's gathered signatures from his GOP colleagues and written to Dayton asking that the MPCA stop implementing the Clean Power Plan. (Read the MPCA response

While it may seem like a bureaucratic discussion about how to use agency time, climate change politics sit just below the surface.

Republicans are against the Clean Power Plan. They say it'll be expensive to close coal plants and replace them with clean energy, and they say efforts in the U.S. are a drop in the bucket when you look at global carbon emissions, especially in places like China and India. Democrats, meanwhile, say the costs of climate change are enormous and they argue that renewable energy has become a lot more affordable. 

Despite those diverging views, some experts say they expect most states will continue working to reduce carbon emissions. 

"There are governors across the country, Republican and Democrat alike, who are looking at this and understanding our future is going to involve de-carbonization," said Bill Ritter, former Democratic governor of Colorado, who spoke recently at the Brookings Institution about states and the Clean Power Plan.

Christine Todd Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey who later served as EPA administrator, is among the Republicans who want to address climate change. She told the Brookings group it's not just a government issue, it's a business issue.

"It's not just utilities that want certainty, it's also major companies that want certainty," she said. "Our international companies, they have to operate in a world where carbon and carbon reduction and clean air, and climate change are very, very important."