When it was passed in 2007, Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act enjoyed widespread support for its goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Outside the state’s borders, however, the reaction was somewhat different. The state of North Dakota and several energy utilities objected to the law’s prohibition on importation of coal-generated power and, in 2011, launched a legal challenge.
Thomas Boyd, of the Minneapolis firm of Winthrop & Weinstine, headed that challenge on their behalves, successfully concluding that effort in 2018.
Boyd’s argument, which prevailed in the trial court and two appellate reviews, was that, while well-intended and laudable, the Minnesota statute unconstitutionally imposed Minnesota’s regulatory authority and policies beyond its own borders.
“We considered it a straightforward, state’s rights case of fact and law,” he says. “But we were concerned that the subject matter — because this was cast as an environmental issue, as opposed to a constitutional preemption issue — would color the development of the record and the way in which the issues would be viewed. We were gratified that the judges assigned to the case recognized what the underlying issues were about.”
A District Court judge struck down the law as unconstitutional, a ruling that was upheld twice by the 8th Circuit, and in 2018 the plaintiffs were awarded $1.3 million in attorneys’ fees.
A shareholder and commercial litigator at Winthrop & Weinstine, Boyd co-chairs the firm’s Pro Bono Committee and also coordinates the Minnesota State Bar Associations’ Unemployment Insurance Appeal pro bono program, which he founded 15 years ago.