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Minn. conservatives praise Clean Power Plan rollback

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Wind turbines send electricity to an energy storage unit.
Wind turbines send electricity to Xcel Energy's battery storage unit near Beaver Creek. The turbines were built by a local investor's group.
Mark Steil | MPR News 2008

While environmental groups admonished the Trump administration for rolling back President Obama's signature climate policy, some Minnesota conservatives welcomed the news.

The Clean Power Plan aimed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants and set emissions reduction targets for each state. But President Trump has said the policy amounts to a "war on coal," and on Tuesday EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt began the process of eliminating it.

Minnesota U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican, said the Clean Power Plan was "federal overreach."

"I am proud that Minnesota companies and elected officials have taken it upon themselves to work to reduce carbon emissions without the heavy hand of the federal government demanding so," Emmer said in a written statement.

Wind turbines
Driving wind sweeps across southwest Minnesota, powering wind turbines near Lake Benton, Minn. in 2006.
Jim Mone | AP 2006

Emmer added that Minnesota is on track to meet its carbon reduction target without the Clean Power Plan, "proving that Minnesotans are capable of implementing policies that work for Minnesotans and are in the best interest of the future of this nation."

Steven Hayward, a conservative speaker and senior resident scholar at the University of California-Berkeley, said the federal government has been too heavy-handed on energy policy.

"I think we let the market decide. Let's stop putting a foot on the scales," said Hayward, who spoke at an event with the Center of the American Experiment on Tuesday, where he criticized public subsidies for wind energy.

Like Emmer, Hayward acknowledged that the rollback of the Clean Power Plan will have little to no effect on states like Minnesota where renewable energy standards are in place.

On that point, renewable energy advocates agree: Minnesota is on track to meet carbon reductions from power plants. That's largely because coal-fired power is more expensive than wind and natural gas.

The idled Taconite Harbor Energy Center near Schroeder
The Taconite Harbor Energy Center, a coal-fired plant owned by Minnesota Power, sits idle on the north shore of Lake Superior near Schroeder on Nov. 13, 2016.
Elizabeth Dunbar | MPR News 2016

"It's so inexpensive that we can retire coal plants and replace it with wind power and save consumers money," Michael Noble, executive director of the clean energy advocacy group Fresh Energy, said in an interview with MPR News' Tom Weber.

A federal wind production tax credit has played a big role in the expansion of wind energy, prompting officials at Xcel Energy to declare in recent years that wind is "on sale."

Gov. Mark Dayton has emphasized the positive impact renewable energy expansion has had on Minnesota's economy and said Tuesday he would renew his call to increase the state's renewable energy standard to 50 percent by 2030.

Dayton said in a statement that the Trump administration's most recent actions won't effect efforts here.

"We will not allow President Trump to stand in the way, as we do everything in our power to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions that threaten our health and our environment," he said.

Even if Minnesota successfully replaces coal with renewable energy, it has a ways to go in meeting its overall greenhouse gas emission goals. That's because the goals set forth in the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act specified the need for economy-wide reductions — including in transportation, agriculture and manufacturing.