Coal plant bill was crafted in secret

? Bills addressing the top environmental issue of the legislative session were written in secret by those who support construction of two coal-burning power plants in western Kansas.

Tom Thompson, a lobbyist with the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, which opposes the plants, said he didn’t think that was right.

“Obviously, it was not an open process,” Thompson said.

House Bill 2711 and Senate Bill 515 essentially would allow the two 700-megawatt plants to be built, even though permits for the plants were rejected last year by Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby. The legislation was filed Wednesday, and public hearings on the bill will be next week.

The four legislators involved in drafting the bill were state Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, chairman of the House Energy and Utilities Committee; state Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee; state Rep. Annie Kuether, D-Topeka, the ranking minority member of the House committee; and state Sen. Janis Lee, D-Kensington, ranking minority member of the Senate committee.

“The four of us have worked on this off and on since November,” Emler said.

The four also are members of the seven-member Kansas Electric Transmission Authority.

Under the state open meetings law, meetings with a majority of a quorum of a public board must be public. A quorum on the Transmission Authority is four members and a majority of a quorum is three members. But Emler said public notice wasn’t necessary because the officials weren’t working on KETA business.

Emler and other supporters of the new legislation described it as a groundbreaking compromise that would limit carbon dioxide emissions. They said they gave in a lot to environmentalists on several issues.

But Thompson asked how it could be a compromise when environmentalists weren’t invited to the table.

Emler and Lee said the plants’ developers, Sunflower Electric Power Corp., had input into the legislation. Emler said although environmentalists weren’t part of the team working on the bills, their input was part of the process through the work and research of legislative staff.