Lawmakers to resume review of coal plant permit process

? Angry legislators aren’t sure what to do about the denial of a permit for two proposed coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas, but a committee plans to resume its investigation next month into the permitting process.

The committee is likely to press Rod Bremby, secretary of health and environment, to explain his rejection of an air-quality permit last week for Sunflower Electric Power Corp., because of potential carbon dioxide emissions.

Bremby’s decision blocks construction for the $3.6 billion project outside Holcomb and upset many legislators who saw the project as an economic boon for western Kansas.

Legislative leaders formed the panel about two weeks before Bremby’s decision, worried the permitting process was moving too slowly. Members support the Sunflower project but don’t know what legislation will emerge from their Nov. 6 discussions.

“I’m not sure what we’ll be doing,” Rep. Carl Dean Holmes, its chairman and a Republican from Liberal, said Tuesday. “I think we need to sort through everything first.”

Bob Eye, a Topeka attorney for the Sierra Club, said Bremby’s decision should lead to a legislative discussion – but lawmakers’ goals should be dealing with CO2 emissions and promoting energy from renewable resources such as wind power. Most scientists see CO2 as a major contributor to global warming.

“That can form the basis of a really good discussion on how to move energy policy along. There is a role for the Legislature,” Eye said. “There are expectations that the public has about dealing with the problems that CO2 and greenhouse gases represent, instead of looking for excuses not to talk about it.”

Bremby will appear if the committee asks him to testify, spokesman Joe Blubaugh said.

“I think he just wants to go over there and answer the questions they have for him,” Blubaugh said.

Supporters of the project hope Bremby’s decision can be overturned.

Sunflower has “a truckload of lawyers” examining the decision and considering how it should be challenged, spokesman Steve Miller said. Sunflower’s partners in the project are Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. of Westminster, Colo., and Golden Spread Electric Cooperative, in Amarillo, Texas.

“All the partners have reaffirmed their support for the project,” Miller said. “We’re going to continue on.”

Bremby denied Sunflower’s permit even though the state doesn’t regulate carbon dioxide emissions, and he has suggested his action was the first step in dealing with CO2. But the same legislators who saw Sunflower’s project as badly needed economic development don’t want the state to regulate CO2, fearing it will hurt the economy.

“The implications of what happened last week are pretty significant,” said Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican and a committee member. “All the automobiles emit CO2.”