Coal debate expected to heat up

Legislators to return today, may attempt veto override

? The political showdown of the year is expected to play out today as legislative leaders try to overturn Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ veto of two coal-fired power plants.

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, and Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, have given Sebelius an ultimatum: Approve the project or face a veto-override vote.

Sebelius will meet with Neufeld and Morris at 8 a.m., then announce her decision at a 9 a.m. news conference, one hour before the House and Senate start the wrap-up session.

The legislative leaders and Sunflower Electric Power Corp. offered to reduce the size of the two plants from 700 megawatts each to 600 megawatts each.

If Sebelius rejects the offer, Morris and Neufeld said they would start voting to override her veto of a bill that would authorize two 700-megawatt plants. An override would require two-thirds’ majorities – 84 votes in the 125-member House and 27 in the 40-member Senate.

The last bill Sebelius vetoed concerning the plants received 83 votes in the House and 32 in the Senate.

“Right now, I don’t think that the votes are there” to override, said Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, who has opposed the plants. But Davis said the wrap-up session, which is scheduled to last four days, could end up going longer.

“I would predict the speaker is going to keep us there as long as he can to try to use that as leverage to get the votes,” he said.

But Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, who supports the project, said he believes there are enough votes in the House to override Sebelius’ veto.

“I think she is going to reject (the offer) and is very much aware that she is losing ground on the override,” he said.

Sebelius has opposed the project’s annual emission of 11 million tons of carbon dioxide and its effect on global warming, and that 85 percent of the power will be used by out-of-state customers. She has also criticized a part of the bill that would strip the state environmental agency of much of its authority in granting power plant permits.