Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday vetoed a second bill allowing two coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas and accused its supporters of being unwilling to compromise.
But House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, an Ingalls Republican who strongly supported the measure, replied that the Democratic governor is preventing the state from having a comprehensive energy policy.
Sebelius' action was expected and came only three days after the Legislature formally presented the bill to her. The measure was similar to one Sebelius vetoed last month.
Both cleared the way for Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build the two plants outside Holcomb, in Finney County. Both also stripped the secretary of health environment of some power, a response to Secretary Rod Bremby's decision in October to deny an air-quality permit for Sunflower's $3.6 billion project.
"I'm not at all surprised that the governor did this," said Sunflower spokesman Steve Miller. "It's regrettable, but I'm not going to offer up any angry letters or angry words."
Sierra Club spokeswoman Stephanie Cole said the second bill, like the first, was a "giveaway to the coal industry" and praised Sebelius' action.
"She has proven to be a steadfast leader in responding to climate change," Cole said.
Legislators are on their annual spring break but reconvene April 30 to finish their business for the year. Sebelius' vetoes will top their agenda, and they have until the end of their session on May 29 to attempt to override her.
Supporters need two-thirds majorities in both chambers to nullify a veto. They've always had more than enough in the Senate. But the second bill passed the House, 83-41, leaving supporters one vote short.
Asked about attempting an override, Neufeld said: "There are several different ways to address the issue, and we'll continue working to get to a 'yes."'
Bremby denied Sunflower's air-quality permit over the plants' potential carbon dioxide emissions, up to 11 million tons a year. He said the state couldn't ignore the dangers posed by global warming, which many scientists link to man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
But Sunflower's project enjoys bipartisan support, and many legislators, including Neufeld, view it as important economic development. They also believe the state will need new coal-fired plants to meet future demands for power.
In January, Sebelius offered Sunflower executives a compromise that would allow them to build one coal-fired plant if they'd commit to conservation programs and new investments in wind farms. Sebelius alluded to that offer in her veto message.
"I am still hopeful we can have meaningful discussions about a true compromise, rather than being sent the same bill in disguise yet again," she wrote.
Sebelius added: "This maneuver has done nothing to address the issues at hand - developing comprehensive energy policy, providing base-load energy power for western Kansas, implementing carbon mitigation strategies and capitalizing on our incredible assets for additional wind power."
Sunflower rejected Sebelius' offer in January as unworkable.
It has two partners in its project, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. of Westminster, Colo., and Golden Spread Electric Cooperative, in Amarillo, Texas. Sunflower is relying on them to help finance the plants, and they initially would receive most of the new power.
Sunflower has said accepting Sebelius' officer would cost it $1.4 billion, which it would have to pass along to customers in higher rates.
"We are just not going to do something - unless we're forced to - that unnecessarily raises the price of electricity for our customers," Miller said.
And, as Neufeld noted, supporters of Sunflower's project included "green" provisions in both bills to attract votes from legislators nervous about the plants' CO2 emissions.
Both bills included a mandate that renewable resources, such as wind, account for 10 percent of most utilities' generating capacity by 2012.
"It is a complete energy policy, and unfortunately, it's been the governor who's been unwilling to visit with us about what energy policy ought to be," Neufeld said.
But environmentalists have considered the green provisions too weak and seen them only as bait to lure legislators into voting for new coal-fired plants. They've also predicted the federal government will regulate CO2 in the near future, making coal-fired plants financially less attractive.
Sebelius said it would be unfair to consumers to allow new plants without taking such costs into account.
"We must remember the decisions we make today have a huge impact on Kansans for generations to come," she wrote.