As a follow up to a previous post the Minnesota Supreme Court issued its decision on April 21, 2021, reversing the Minnesota Court of Appeals and remanding the matter for further review. In so doing, the Court concluded that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission properly concluded that MEPA review was not required.
The Court first analyzed environmental review under Minn. Stat. § 216B.48, which governs the approval of affiliated-interest agreements, finding that nothing in the statute requires environmental review, and the legislature did not instruct the Commission to conduct environmental review as part of its analysis. Additionally, the Court reasoned that the Commission properly analyzed whether the affiliated-interest agreements satisfied the public-interest test by considering Minnesota’s resource planning and certificate of need statutes. The Court next analyzed whether the language within MEPA independently requires environmental review of affiliated-interest agreements. Noting that “MEPA is not applicable unless [the] action has the potential for significant environmental effects,” and because “the decision to approve the terms and conditions of Minnesota Power’s affiliated-interest agreements does not grant a permit, does not approve the construction or operation of the NTEC power plant,” the Court concluded that MEPA does not independently require the Commission to conduct additional environmental review as part of its approval process.
Because of this conclusion, the Court did not address the remaining dormant Commerce Clause considerations, and, therefore, reversed the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded the matter for determination of whether the Commission otherwise erred in approving the affiliated-interest agreements, though its decision was not unanimous with Justice Chutich issuing a dissent.
With the matter once again before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Stoel Rives will continue to track this matter and provide updates as necessary.