Senate to open coal-plant hearings

? The state Senate today will consider legislation aimed at getting two coal-burning power plants built in southwest Kansas despite the objections of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and several environmental groups.

But while legislative leaders pushed for the plants, which would emit 11 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, Kansas’ top environmental official renewed his call for a reduction in greenhouse gasses.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby said his agency was preparing a statewide inventory of CO2 emissions that could lead to future regulations.

Bremby said the inventory was needed “so that we know how big this issue is in Kansas.”

Last year, Bremby rejected the two 700-megawatt plants citing concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. Legislative supporters of the plants have vowed to reverse that decision.

Under questioning Tuesday from legislators, Bremby said his agency will have ready in two months a catalog of CO2 emissions by sector, such as transportation, agriculture and energy.

With that in hand, KDHE would start a public process aimed at limits of CO2, he said.

Bremby said “the stick” of those limits would be used in the process of considering permits to modify equipment at existing coal-fired plants.

When lawmakers expressed displeasure with that approach, Bremby said federal legislation was on the way that would likely force the issue.

“There are bigger sticks that are out there,” he said.

Bremby said it is almost certain that a federal “cap and trade” system will be enacted within the next three years that would create a price for carbon dioxide emissions similar to those in Europe. Industry experts think the cost would likely be $20 to $30 a ton, he said.

“We are choosing not to ignore the impending federal legislation,” Bremby said. “We want to work with industry to develop strategies today to mitigate those future regulations.”

Meanwhile, the bill before the Senate would allow construction of the plants and limit KDHE’s ability to deny permits for other coal-burning plants.

Also on Tuesday, the House Energy and Utilities Committee recommended a bill that would allow the two plants but also require utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable resources, such as wind, by 2010.