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Topeka The Kansas House on Monday gave preliminary approval to a bill allowing two coal-burning power plants but failed to muster enough votes to make it veto-proof.
"We'll just have to see what's needed to make it work," said House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls. A final vote is scheduled for today.
Last year, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby rejected the two 700-megawatt plants in western Kansas, citing concerns about the project's 11 million tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has supported Bremby's decision and has been highly critical of House and Senate bills that essentially would force issuance of the permits - and strip Bremby, a Sebelius appointee, of the authority he used to reject the project.
If Sebelius were to veto the House bill, it would have to be overturned with a two-thirds vote - 84 of 125 votes.
On Monday, the House advanced the bill 73-45.
How they voted
Locally, state Reps. Barbara Ballard and Paul Davis, both of Lawrence, and Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, all Democrats, opposed the bill.
State Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, voted for it, and Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, refused to vote and wouldn't say how he would vote today.
"We'll see what happens," Sloan said.
Early in the debate, the House removed from the bill a provision of Sloan's that would have set up the Kansas Energy, Science and Technology Commission to study climate change issues and make policy recommendations.
"It's an effort to have a balanced and publicly accepted discourse on where our energy policies should be," Sloan said. But others argued that it duplicates other state panels, and Sloan's proposal was stripped.
Much of the House debate centered on whether the Kansas economy would be hurt if KDHE could take into account climate change when considering permits for power plants.
"We might as well put up a big billboard that says closed for business," said Rep. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard.
But Holland said that while he believes coal-generated power must be part of Kansas' energy mix, the two proposed plants made little financial sense because of potential federal regulations on CO2 emissions and increased construction costs.
"This will end up depressing and not reinvigorating the western Kansas economy," Holland said of the proposal.
Several speakers questioned that carbon dioxide emissions were contributing to global warming.
"This is not settled science," said Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona.
But the House bill would require utilities to use renewable resources, such as wind. They'd have to generate 5 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2012 and 10 percent by 2020. The Senate has approved its own bill, which contains no CO2 standards.
One amendment to the House bill would prohibit Bremby from exercising his authority to deny permits based on general health concerns.
Rep. Josh Svaty, D-Ellsworth, urged the House to reject the amendment, saying it was the Kansas Supreme Court's responsibility to determine whether Bremby exceeded his authority. Bremby's decision has been appealed by Sunflower and is before the state Supreme Court.
But Rep. Bill Otto, R-Leroy, said it was legislators' responsibility to stand up for citizens.
"We are the ones elected by the people. Not the judges, not the bureaucrats," he said.
The amendment was approved.
State Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, said rejection of Sunflower Electric's permits was unfair because the company had complied with all existing state laws. Neither state nor federal law restricts CO2 emissions.
"Sunflower went through all the hoops and hurdles and then got to the last one, and the rules were changed," Holmes said, adding Bremby's call "was a political decision."
But Bremby said his decision was based on his authority under the law to protect the health of people and the environment.
When he issued his order, Bremby said, "I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing."