Business groups pushing for coal plants

Legislative panel considers bill that aims for plants’ OK

? A Sunflower Electric Power Corp. executive said Wednesday that legislation designed to allow the company to build two coal-burning power plants was needed to establish the rule of law and protect freedom.

Environmentalists disagreed.

“You stand as watchmen,” Mark Calcara, vice president and general counsel for Hays-based Sunflower Electric, told the House Energy and Utilities Committee.

He said a decision more than a year ago by Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby rejecting permits for the two 700-megawatt plants in southwestern Kansas represented a departure from the law.

Bremby denied the permits in 2007, citing his authority to protect the health of Kansans and the environment. The project annually would emit 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

The Legislature passed three bills in 2008 to reverse Bremby’s decision, but Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed the bills, and supporters of the plants were unable to gain the two-thirds majority to overturn those vetoes. Sunflower Electric has filed lawsuits seeking to get the plants built.

Bremby’s decision, Calcara said, was based on a “whim.” He said state and federal law doesn’t regulate CO2 emissions.

“If the rule of law is violated, then all of our other freedoms are at risk. We’ll lose our freedoms inch-by-inch by well-meaning Americans — well-meaning Americans who believe the ends justifies the means. Tyranny begins the first time the rule of law is deviated from,” Calcara said.

He and other business representatives voiced support of House Bill 2182, which would essentially overturn Bremby’s decision.

Amy Blankenbiller, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Chamber, said the legislation would help the economy and ease industry concerns about state regulations.

“The Legislature needs to make it very clear that Kansas is open for business,” Blankenbiller said.

Environmentalists had a different take on the legislation.

“The Sierra Club believes climate change is real and something needs to be done about it. Instead HB 2182 will contribute to climate change while catering to a special interest,” said Tom Thompson, representing the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club.

Thompson said the state should focus on developing renewable energy such as wind. He said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that CO2 is a pollutant that may be regulated if it presents a danger to health and environment. Bremby’s denial of the Sunflower permits is consistent with his authority, Thompson said.

Nancy Jackson, project director of the Climate and Energy Project, said the bill would prevent the secretary of KDHE from responding to emergency threats.

Jackson said she was speaking as a mother of two daughters and not in her professional capacity.

“In an age of terrorism, biological weapons and increasingly extreme weather, Kansans need and deserve a Department of Health and Environment ready and fully able to protect our health,” she said.

The committee took no action on the bill after the 50-minute hearing. Chairman Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, said the committee would spend 20 minutes today for more questioning of those who testified.