Sierra Club comes under fire during hearing on energy bill

? The Sierra Club came under fire Thursday during a hearing on a bill backed by Sunflower Electric Power Corp. that is aimed at building two coal-fired electric power plants in southwestern Kansas.

During a meeting of the House Energy and Utilities Committee, state Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie, praised Sunflower’s vice president and general counsel Mark Calcara and criticized Kansas chapter of Sierra Club lobbyist Tom Thompson, who opposes the bill.

He said to Calcara that Thompson probably uses Sunflower Electric’s services and yet “he tries so diligently to put you out of business.”

Earlier, state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said he was bothered by Thompson’s statement on Wednesday that the bill was tailored for the special interests of Sunflower.

“Is the Sierra Club a special interest also?” Sloan asked Thompson. Thompson said probably everyone who appears before the committee represents a special interest.

While it appears a majority on the committee support House Bill 2182, it was also criticized by some.

State Rep. Milack Talia, D-Merriam, said the bill would overturn an executive branch decision. “What I have a problem with is the Legislature acting like the judicial branch,” Talia said.

The committee took no action on the measure, but the debate shows that the Sunflower proposal is likely to become a key issue in the current legislative session.

The bill would pave the way for construction of two 700-megawatt coal-burning power plants that have been denied by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who has cited the project’s annual emission of 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

The issue dominated the 2008 legislative session as supporters of the project approved bills three times to ensure Sunflower got the permits needed for the project. Sebelius vetoed the measures and supporters of the plants were unable to overturn her veto. Sunflower also has taken the battle to state and federal court to try to build the plants.