Topeka — For the second straight year, Kansas lawmakers have put green wrapping around a carbon dioxide-emitting coal-fired power project.
Legislative leaders say House Bill 2014, which would pave the way for construction of two 700-megawatt coal-burning plants near Holcomb, will be up for a vote this week.
“It’s a pretty comprehensive bill,” House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said.
The legislation incorporates more than a dozen bills that would implement sweeping changes in state energy policy, including several “green” initiatives aimed at increasing the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind.
But the core of the bill includes changes that would essentially require that Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby issue permits for the Holcomb project in southwestern Kansas.
Bremby denied the permits in 2007, citing environmental and health effects of the project’s emission of 11 million tons per year of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that scientists say is contributing to destructive climate change.
The Legislature spent much of the 2008 session passing legislation to reverse Bremby’s decision, but Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed the attempts and efforts to override her fell just short of the two-thirds majority needed in the House.
Developers of the project — Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. and Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association — are seeking to have Bremby’s decision overturned in court.
But they also are seeking legislative help again. O’Neal said the Legislature needs to act because it is unknown when the legal process will run its course.
“The court is on its own timetable. That timetable doesn’t fit our timetable in terms of if we’re going to do the project,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal said he believes he has the votes in his chamber to override an expected Sebelius veto — 84 votes in the 125-member House. In the 40-member Senate, 27 votes are needed to override.
But opponents of the project say they will be able to uphold a veto.
The project, they say, is even more untenable now than last year because of the election of President Barack Obama, who has vowed to address greenhouse gases.
Last week new EPA administrator Lisa Jackson set in motion a process that could lead to regulations of CO2.
David Bookbinder, chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club, said Jackson’s decision “should cast significant further doubt on the approximately 100 coal-fired power plants that the industry is trying to rush through the permitting process without any limits on carbon dioxide.”