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Chairman Denny McNamara of Hastings leads a House environment and energy committee Tuesday as it passes a bill to lift a nuclear power plant construction moratorium. Photo by Don Davis/State Capitol Bureau

McNamara-led panel backs lifting nuclear ban; coal next

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ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota House committee voted Tuesday to allow new nuclear power plants in the state, with another vote coming soon to remove a ban on new coal power plants and to allow North Dakota coal and electrical power.

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Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, promised to work with Gov. Mark Dayton on both issues. Dayton has expressed reservations on expanding nuclear power.

"We're not interested in jamming and getting a veto," said McNamara, chairman of the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee that voted 10-6 to advance a bill lifting the nuclear power plant ban to another committee.

McNamara and other Republicans leaders, who hold a legislative majority over Democrats, expect some form of the measure to pass. Democrats generally oppose lifting the ban, saying they do not want more nuclear waste stored in the state, and some claim nuclear power is too expensive.

President Victoria Winfrey of the Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council told McNamara's committee that the tribe opposes lifting the nuclear moratorium until a safe place to store waste is found.

Winfrey said 725 tons of waste already are stored at Prairie Island nuclear power plant, operated by Xcel Energy near Red Wing. She said that if the power plant's license remains in effect for another two decades, 2,500 tons of waste will be stored there, near the tribal community.

The president said she feared that an increasing number of "operating errors" puts her tribe in radioactive danger.

Dan Bender of the Red Wing City Council said the city supports lifting the construction ban. He reminded the House committee that French nuclear reactors use recycled nuclear material and urged state lawmakers to pressure Washington to begin that process here.

Bride Seifert of the Minnesota chamber of Commerce said that no company is considering building a new nuclear power plant, to join ones in Red Wing and Monticello.

Even if someone wants to build a new plant, Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, said, "we have the capability of talking about nuclear power in the current structure."

"Over the past few years, Minnesota has made a nation-leading commitment to home-grown renewable resources," added Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson. "Our emphasis on renewable energy is jobs now, not jobs 10 to 15 years from now."

Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said she sponsored the bill lifting the moratorium because the demand for electricity will continue to increase as her children grow older.

"I am concerned about their energy needs in the future," she said.

McNamara said that "sooner rather than later" his committee will take a step to allow new coal power plants to be built.

Before that vote is taken, however, McNamara plans to invite North Dakota officials to his committee.

North Dakota is considering suing Minnesota over laws that restrict electricity generated by that state's coal-fired plants. Laws also do not allow North Dakota coal to be imported for use in Minnesota coal plants.

McNamara said he expects the Legislature to take some action opening Minnesota to coal-fired electric plants and to North Dakota coal and power.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the South Washington County Bulletin.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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