Rep. expects ‘huge fight’ over coal plants

? Holcomb is more than 300 miles from Leavenworth County, but Leavenworth County legislators say they won’t distance themselves from the debate surrounding the proposed construction of two coal-burning electric plants in Finney County.

Four state lawmakers, Sens. Roger Pine and Mark Gilstrap and Reps. Kenny Wilk and Candy Ruff, were in Lansing on Friday for an annual pre-session breakfast with city officials. While there was plenty of talk about local issues that will be debated in the 2008 Legislature, the morning’s dominant topic was Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby’s denial in October of permits to allow construction of two 700-megawatt plants outside of Holcomb.

Wilk, R-Lansing, said the topic would be the marquee issue of the session, which begins Jan. 14.

“There’s a lot riding on this, and it’s not just the fact the permit was denied,” he said.

Among the underlying issues, Wilk said, was the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.

“In my view, the decision that’s been made is not based upon any statutory authority. It is an arbitrary decision,” Wilk said. “And the legislative branch of government has a decision to make: Do we stand by and let the executive branch make up the rules or do we reassert our power?”

Pine, R-Lawrence, distanced himself from many of his Lawrence constituents who fought against the plants on environmental grounds.

“It’s hard for me to walk away from something like Holcomb when it would generate over $3 billion worth of economic development in an area that’s difficult to find things to increase economic development,” he said.

Ruff, D-Leavenworth, said she was on the opposite side of the fence from a fellow Democrat, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who has supported Bremby’s decision.

“I tell you we’re going to have a huge fight about this Holcomb plant,” Ruff said. “But I’m kind of with Roger Pine on this one – you know, it ain’t easy being a Democrat sometimes.”

Ruff, however, said she wasn’t alone among Democrats in her view of the issue.

“I’m certainly going to be supportive of whatever we can do to get that plant up and going in Holcomb, and I just want you to know a lot of Democrats in our caucus feel the same way I do,” she said.