Topeka Comments from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and House Speaker Melvin Neufeld raised speculation Monday about whether a deal is being worked out that would allow a coal-burning power plant in western Kansas.
When asked about whether negotiations were occurring, Sebelius said, "What is happening right now I would characterize more as conversations. There is a lot of information that I think is important for everybody to have."
She said some of that information includes projected electric needs, energy costs and environmental impact.
"It has been characterized as a very black-and-white situation. I don't think that's accurate," she said.
In October, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby rejected the two 700-megawatt plants, citing concerns about the carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. Sebelius supported the decision.
The decision unleashed a torrent of criticism from western Kansas legislators, including the state's two most powerful lawmakers, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Neufeld, R-Ingalls. They saw the $3.5 billion project as a needed economic project, and they said the plants would have been among the cleanest-burning coal plants in the nation.
Many have said the Republican legislative leaders, who lead significant majorities in the House and Senate, would force a showdown with Sebelius, a Democrat, over legislation to reverse the denial.
Neufeld, and even some Democrats, have hinted that some kind of compromise could be reached to avoid a showdown during the session that started Monday.
"Legislators would be pleased and relieved if a compromise could be worked out," said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka.
But, he added, "If that's possible, I don't know."
House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney of Greensburg said perhaps some environmental mitigation could be made to offset the effects of carbon dioxide emissions.
"That would be ideal, if we could find some common ground," he said.
McKinney said the state will miss out on a lot of economic development if the plants aren't built.
Environmentalists, however, say they want the decision to deny the plants to stand.
"I think that she (Sebelius) has gone quite out on a limb to support Bremby's decision, so I can't imagine that she would just capitulate," said Craig Volland, of the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club.
But, he added, "The Legislature is pretty powerful and is controlled by people who are angry about this, so I'm sure she is under pressure."
Not only regional western Kansas interests are lobbying for the plants. So are organized labor and other business interests.
Bob Eye, an attorney for the Sierra Club, conceded the denial of the coal plants has introduced some bare-knuckled political sparring.
"It's not a pillow fight," he said.
But, he said, KDHE and Sebelius made the right decision and should stick to it.
"If we abandon this decision, I think they'll be asking more than 'what's the matter with Kansas,' but they'll be asking 'what in the world is the matter with Kansas.'"
Under the proposal by Sunflower Electric Power Corp., most of the energy that would have been produced at the two plants would have been sold to out-of-state companies. Sebelius said she was opposed to emitting tons of C02 every year in Kansas to make power for Colorado and Texas.
Sunflower has appealed KDHE's decision to the Kansas Supreme Court.