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Historical Background - Minnesota Public Utilities Commission

The Commission’s lineage begins with the creation of railroad and warehouse regulation in the State during the 2nd half of the 19 th century when in 1871 legislation was passed creating the Office of the Railroad Commissioner. ( MN Laws 1871 chapter 22 ). The Commissioner's duties were described, in part to: 

"inquire into and report annually any neglect or infringement of the laws for the regulation of railroads in this state, by officers, employees, or agents of such roads, to the legislature the first week of its session; and shall also, from time to time, carefully examine and inspect the condition of each railroad in this state, and learn its state of repair and sufficiency, and that of its carriages, engines, furniture and equipage, and the manner of its conduct and management for the public safety, and shall also report the same to the legislature, during the first week of its session."

Three years later, in 1874, legislation was passed that expanded state regulatory authority over railroads with the creation of a three-person Board of Railroad Commissioners ( MN Laws 1874 chapter 26 ). The Board members were appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The Board retained all of the powers under the 1871 law and added the responsibility for the oversight of railroad rates and the enforcement of a prohibition against charging discriminatory rates.

In 1875 legislation was enacted that changed the structure of the Board ( MN Laws 1875 chapter 103 ). The three member appointed board was done away with and replaced by a single elected Commissioner. The elected Commissioner was given the additional authority to inspect the financial conditions of the railroads, collect published rates and was required to provide annual reports to the Governor and Legislature.

Legislation passed in 1885 transferred the duties of this single Commissioner to the “Railroad and Warehouse Commissioners” which, once again, was made up of three members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate ( MN Laws 1885 chapter 188). The Commissioners were appointed by the governor for two-year terms with one being required to come from the “leading opposite political party to the governor”. The authorities of the Commission were once again expanded and, among other things, were given the power to examine the books of the railroads, issue subpoenas, administer oaths, and the power to eliminate unjust discrimination in rates, or unequal rate treatment of persons, towns, villages or locations.

In 1899 the terms of the Commissioners was extended to four years and once more, were to be elected. ( MN Laws 1899 chapter 39 ). In 1911 the terms of Commissioners were extended to six years ( MN Laws 1911 chapter 140 ). In 1915 the Commission was given the authority over the setting of rates charged be telephone companies for their services ( MN Laws 1915 chapter 152 ).

In 1967 legislation was passed that created the Department of Public Service ( MN Laws 1967, chapter 864 ), which consisted of two branches: the Public Service Commission and the Administrative Division. The legislation renamed the regulatory board and transferred all of the duties of the Railroad and Warehouse Commission to the newly created Public Service Commission.

In 1974, the Commission began regulating the rates charged by natural gas and electric utilities ( MN Laws 1974, chapter 429 ). The 1974 legislation also changed the composition of the Commission from three to five Commissioners and from serving six year terms to five year terms. In 1976 legislation returned Commissioner’s terms from five years back to six years ( MN Laws 1976, chapter 134 )

A 1979 report by the Legislative Auditor noted a strained relationship between the Director of the Administrative Division of the Department of Public Service and the Commissioners of the Public Service Commission, and recommended structural changes. In 1980 legislation was passed that separated the two branches of the Department and established two independent state agencies: the Department of Public Service and the Public Utilities Commission ( MN Laws 1980, chapter 614 ).

In 2005, legislation was enacted that transferred the authorities for the siting, routing and permitting of large electric generating plants, wind energy systems, high voltage transmission lines, and certain pipelines to the Commission ( MN Laws 2005, chapter 97 ).

This information was made available through the Legislative Reference Library:

The Railroad and Warehouse Commission: 

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission:

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