Kansas House OKs coal plant bill; final approval set for Tuesday

A bill allowing two coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas won first-round approval Monday in the House after members rejected proposed limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

The vote to advance the bill was 73-45. House members planned to take final action Tuesday, when approval would send the measure to the Senate.

The vote Monday suggested that supporters of the coal-fired plants don’t have enough support to overcome a potential veto by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. To override a veto, they’d need a two-thirds majority, or 84 of 125 votes.

Rep. Pat Colloton, a Leawood Republican, proposed imposing rules on utilities that build new power plants. They would have either had to have limited CO2 from their new plants; reduced emissions from other, existing plants, or invested in conservation programs or wind farms and other renewable resources.

The vote was 66-49 against her proposal.

Colloton offered her proposal as an amendment to a bill that would permit Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build the two coal-fired plants outside Holcomb in Finney County. The $3.6 billion project has been blocked since October by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ administration because of the plants’ potential CO2 emissions, linked by many scientists to global warming.

“It’s just a basic statement that we ought to mitigate additional carbon dioxide,” Colloton said.

But many legislators oppose enacting what would be the state’s first standards for CO2 emissions. The bill, as originally drafted, contained some rules but the House Energy and Utilities Committee stripped them out.

Opponents of such rules contend emissions standards should be left to the federal government, so that there’s a uniform nationwide policy. They said Kansas would be at a competitive disadvantage and discourage business growth if it imposed its own regulations.

Some also argued that the link between manmade CO2 emissions and climate change hasn’t been established strongly enough to warrant such action.

“I think people are beginning to discover that this is not settled science, and that’s the point,” said Rep. Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican. “I think the tide is shifting.”

The Senate already has approved its own bill, without any CO2 standards.

In the House, some members believe that if supporters of the Sunflower project were going to garner a two-thirds majority, the chamber would have to include some “green” provisions.

The bill would require all utilities to invest in renewable resources, such as wind. They’d have to generate 5 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2012 and 10 percent by 2020.

The Energy and Utilities Committee originally included higher percentages but tied them to a utility’s overall generating capacity. The House voted to rewrite the provisions after members said the new language actually would be stricter.