Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius wants legislators to slow down in trying to pass legislation to impose the state's first rules for carbon dioxide emissions but allow two coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas.
"We seem to be playing a beat-the-clock strategy," Sebelius said Friday during a Statehouse news conference. "I hope they slow down."
The House and Senate utilities committees have scheduled hearings next week on separate but identical energy bills drafted by their Republican chairmen and top Democrats. The chairmen plan to have the committees vote Feb. 8 - making debates in both chambers possible the following week.
"I don't think it's especially fast," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican. "People have been talking about this since last fall."
The legislation would make Kansas among a handful of states attempting to limit CO2 emissions, which many scientists link to global warming. But critics, including Sebelius, said the rules would be so lax that utilities from other states would be encouraged to build new coal-fired plants in Kansas, actually increasing emissions.
Also, the legislation would allow Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build the two coal-fired power plants outside Holcomb. Sebelius' top environmental regulator has blocked the $3.6 billion project, citing the plants' potential CO2 emissions.
Sebelius has said she offered executives at Sunflower and a sister utility, Midwest Energy Inc., a compromise permitting them to build one coal-fired plant, if they would commit to developing wind farms and energy conservation programs. She said the executives rejected the deal.
Earl Watkins Jr., Sunflower's chief executive officer, wouldn't comment Friday about the negotiations, but he said building only one plant doesn't offer Sunflower's customers the same financial benefits. Eighty-five percent of the new power would flow out of state, generating revenues to allow the company to contain rates or invest in other projects.
Watkins also said lawmakers aren't moving too quickly on energy proposals.
"People have been considering issues that are before the Legislature in this bill for a long time," he said. "From our perspective, what we think this bill does is pull together years of work, not hours of work, into a consolidated, sound energy policy."
The legislation would set energy efficiency standards for new state and public school buildings and state vehicles; require utilities to allow customers to reduce their bills by using solar power; and set up a new commission to study issues surrounding electric generation.
But Sebelius strongly objects to other provisions limiting the secretary of health and environment's authority to deny air-quality permits for power plants or to impose rules for carbon dioxide emissions without legislative approval. Secretary Rod Bremby denied a permit in October for Sunflower's project.