Local lawmakers split on coal-plant bill

A legislative battle over a coal-burning power project 300 miles away has split the Douglas County delegation and is sure to spill over into this year’s elections.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, turned up the heat Friday with a news release criticizing state Sen. Roger Pine and state Reps. Anthony Brown and Tom Sloan, all Republicans, for voting for a bill that essentially would require state approval of the two 700-megawatt units near Holcomb.

“It’s apparent that some members of the Douglas County delegation aren’t listening to their constituents,” said Hensley, whose district includes a portion of Douglas County. “There isn’t a community in the state that has been more vocal about protecting the environment than Lawrence. It’s unfortunate that the people of Douglas County can’t boast that 100 percent of their legislators stood strong.”

This week, the House and Senate approved the bill, but Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has promised to veto it, citing environmental concerns about the Holcomb project’s 11 million tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions, while most of the electrical power produced will be used by out of state customers. Lawrence City Commission and numerous local residents have opposed the project because of concerns about C02 contributing to climate change.

But the Republicans shot back, saying their votes for the bill were environmentally sound.

“I’m disappointed that Senator Hensley views that anyone that voted in favor of the Holcomb project is not supportive of the environment,” Pine said.

Sloan said of Hensley, “He’s trying to fire up the Lawrence community to put more pressure on me to vote as he and the governor wish. My response to the people of Lawrence and the governor is that I remain committed to having the most responsible bill passed that addresses regional energy needs and addresses environmental public health concerns.”

Brown, of Eudora, said he voted for the bill because the plants will provide jobs to western Kansas and it didn’t seem fair for an eastern Kansas legislator to oppose economic development in another part of the state.

For the record, Douglas County Democrats have voted against bills allowing the two plants. That includes state Sen. Marci Francisco, state Reps. Barbara Ballard and Paul Davis, all of Lawrence, state Reps. Tom Holland of Baldwin City, Ann Mah, whose Topeka district also includes a part of Douglas County, and Hensley.

Pine said he supported the Holcomb project because the units would be the cleanest coal-burning plants in the state and use the latest technology. In addition, he said, the plants’ accompanying transmission lines would accelerate development and sale of wind energy.

He said coal-fired plants must be part of a plan to provide needed electric power to Kansas and the nation.

Sloan – who received a personal note from the governor expressing her disappointment in his vote – said he has worked on the bill to make it “greener.” Last month, he voted against an earlier version of the bill after the House stripped out his provision for a commission to study transmission, climate change and other electrical generation issues.

A conference committee, however, placed a study commission back in the bill that has been approved by both the House and Senate and supported by Sloan.

Sloan said the bill will provide for a “greener future” because it also includes provisions requiring utilities invest in renewable resources and encourage solar energy.

Hensley disagreed.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. I fail to see how allowing for the construction of the largest coal plant in the state that would emit more than 11 million tons of CO2 makes Kansas a greener state.”