Coal plant rejection expected to dominate session
Supporting KDHE’s denial of permits:
¢ State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence
¢ State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence
¢ Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence
¢ Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City
¢ State Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence
¢ State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence
Lawrence lawmakers expect the Legislature will spend a lot of time fighting about two rejected coal-fired electric plants in western Kansas.
“I think we will deal with it the entire session,” said state Rep. Barbara Ballard.
Last month, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby denied permits for two 700-megawatt power plants in Holcomb because of health and environmental concerns from carbon dioxide emissions. The plants would have emitted 11 million tons of CO2 annually, and 85 percent of the electric power would have been sold out-of-state.
Challenges to decision
Bremby’s decision won praise from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and environmentalists nationwide.
But it stunned plant developers, Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. and its legislative supporters, which include House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and key committee chairmen.
They argued the plants would have been among the cleanest coal-fired facilities in the nation, would have provided the transmission lines needed for development of more wind power, and given western Kansas an economic shot in the arm.
Sunflower has challenged Bremby’s ruling in court, and Neufeld, Morris and others have promised legislation seeking to reverse the order when the 2008 Legislature convenes in January. The decision also has spawned a high-dollar advertising war between coal and natural gas interests.
“I expect there will be a whole lot of activity in the Legislature,” said state Rep. Paul Davis, a Democrat. “I’ve heard there will be proposals from everything from abolishing KDHE to stripping its permit authority and putting that under the purview of Legislature.
“This is driven by legislative leadership. They have a tremendous amount of power in the Legislature, and they will try to use every bit of it to try to reverse this decision.”
And Lawrence’s delegation will be in the thick of the debate.
For the record, Ballard, Davis, state Sen. Marci Francisco, and state Rep. Tom Holland, all Democrats, say they supported Bremby’s decision.
State Sen. Roger Pine, a Republican, opposed it, saying Bremby didn’t use “sound science.”
Another area Republican, state Rep. Tom Sloan, declined to say whether he supports or opposes Bremby’s ruling.
Regardless of their views, they all agreed that rejection of the plants must be followed with a debate on how Kansas will meet its future energy needs, and what can be done to help the western Kansas economy should Bremby’s decision stand.
“Western Kansas needs more electricity,” Sloan said. “So if you are not going to allow that plant to be built, how will you meet their legitimate needs?”
Pine said, “There will be significant need for additional electricity in Kansas over the next 25 years, and it would be foolish for us not to plan for that.”
Holland said the debate over the coal-burning plants “will be good for the state. We really need to make long-term decisions.”
Francisco said Bremby’s decision made sense because if the federal government establishes CO2 regulations and taxes, the cost of coal-fired electricity will increase dramatically.
But Francisco said she recognizes that the decision cost western Kansas some economic development.
“I think the speaker and president want jobs and investment and want to see healthy growth in that part of the state, and I want to work with them on ways to accomplish that,” she said.
Ballard said although she supported Bremby’s decision, supporters of the plants make a good argument.
“What I’m concerned about is that it is going to be an east Kansas versus west Kansas thing. The people who are supporting these plants are very passionate, and they can demonstrate the need,” she said.