Power company lining up support for coal plants

? Powerful lawmakers, Sunflower Electric Power Corp. executives and lobbyists met behind closed doors Friday to discuss ways to try to overturn state rejection of two 700-megawatt coal plants in western Kansas.

“The main deal is we figure we have lost with one branch of the Kansas government and so we are going to do all we can with the other two branches to get this denial overturned,” Sunflower spokesman Steve Miller said.

Last week, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ administration denied permits for the $3.6 billion plants near Holcomb. In his order, Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment Roderick Bremby cited concerns about emissions’ contribution to climate change.

Bremby’s decision has been criticized by western Kansas legislators and Sunflower officials who say the plants would be among the cleanest burning coal-fired facilities in the nation and would boost the regional economy. They note neither state nor federal governments regulate coal-produced carbon dioxide emissions.

The high-powered meeting Friday occurred in the office of Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton. Attending were Morris, House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, and state Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, chairman of the House committee that deals with utilities. Sunflower president Earl Watkins and other company officials were present.

After the meeting, Morris said: “There are a number of us who believe that the secretary acted outside the scope of his authority to do this.” He said Sunflower is considering challenging the decision.

Sebelius wouldn’t talk about a possible legislative fight. But environmentalists said they were preparing for challenges.

“We are aware that there is likely to be some backlash on this issue,” said Craig Volland of the Sierra Club’s Kansas chapter. “The majority of the people in Kansas agree with the secretary’s decision.”