House backs off on taxing carbon dioxide emissions

? House Republicans gave overwhelming support to an unprecedented tax on carbon dioxide emissions, but then helped kill the proposal just hours later Tuesday.

Opponents of the measure said the reversal showed the proposal was simply a political move aimed at trying to punish those who have been opposed to permitting two coal-burning power plants in western Kansas.

The carbon tax amendment was written so it would have applied only to power plants in eastern Kansas, they said.

“There is a way to make Kansas greener without punishing ratepayers in certain parts of the state,” said state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.

But state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, a supporter of the proposal, said it would have provided an incentive to clean up coal-fired electric generating plants.

Several other legislators, however, rejected the measure, saying such a sweeping policy decision needed to be considered in public hearings and committee meetings before being sprung on the full House.

The amendment by state Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Courtland, called for a tax of $37 per ton of CO2 emissions at power plants that are in excess of 110 percent of the statewide average per megawatt hour. Revenue collected would then be used as a tax credit for the utility with the lowest carbon dioxide emissions.

The measure came up as the Legislature wrestles over the proposed two 700-megawatt units near Holcomb.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ administration has rejected the plants because of concerns about the project’s annual emission of 11 million tons of CO2 and its effect on climate change. Lawmakers have approved a bill that would allow the plants, but Sebelius vetoed the measure.

On Monday evening, House members voted 78-42 in support of the carbon tax proposal, with nearly all those votes coming from Republicans.

But 26 House Republicans who voted for the CO2 tax on Monday voted against it Tuesday to help kill it.

State Reps. Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and Robert Olson, R-Olathe, were among those who switched. They explained their second vote by saying the carbon tax amendment would “cause a large rate increase for many Kansans.”

Lawrence-area legislators remained consistent in their support or opposition in the two votes on the amendment to Senate Bill 471.

Voting for the proposal Monday were Sloan; Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie; and Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing.

Voting against the proposal Monday were Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence; Anthony Brown, R-Eudora; Paul Davis, D-Lawrence; Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City; and Ann Mah, D-Topeka.

On Tuesday when the amendment died, Sloan, Tafanelli and Wilk voted for it, while Ballard, Brown, Davis, Holland and Mah voted against it.