Topeka Two major Kansas utilities oppose a move by Kansas legislators to block limits on greenhouse gases, and Gov. Mark Parkinson’s spokesman said Friday that he is considering their objections.
The Republican-controlled Legislature added a provision to the next state budget to prohibit the Department of Health and Environment from spending any money on drafting rules on greenhouse gas emissions, linked by scientists to global warming.
The provision is really directed at the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which took a crucial step in December toward regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The measure’s sponsor hopes to slow or block the EPA’s efforts.
But officials with Westar Energy Inc. and Sunflower Electric Power Corp. said the attempt could lead the EPA to take over the state’s program for issuing air-quality permits. They expressed their concerns to Parkinson’s office this week — after an EPA administrator warned it could happen.
The Democratic governor has until May 28 to veto individual budget items.
“We’ve received significant concerns,” said spokesman Seth Bundy. “We’re taking all that into consideration.”
Sen. Tim Huelskamp, a Fowler Republican and the primary author of the provision, said the state should fight the EPA. Like many critics, he’s skeptical of the science behind warnings about global warming and believes regulating greenhouse gases will severely damage the economy.
“We want to make sure that they’re not helping the EPA,” he said.
But the utilities believe they’ll face greenhouse gas rules however the state responds and worry about the EPA stepping in.
“It could delay or complicate future projects,” said Westar spokeswoman Karla Olsen.
Westar, the state’s largest electric company, has 684,000 customers. Sunflower serves about 400,000 customers through six electric cooperatives.
Sunflower is seeking a permit for a new, 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Finney County. It brokered a deal last year with Parkinson to resolve regulatory and legislative issues blocking a larger project.
KDHE handles regulation and permitting under a plan approved by the EPA, which enforces the federal Clean Air Act. If the EPA objects to how the state operates, it can demand changes or even take over.
“That’s all going to take time. It’s going to take more money from some taxpayer,” said Clare Gustin, a Sunflower vice president. “Let’s not introduce confusion and perhaps delay.”
In a letter to KDHE on May 10, the day the budget was approved, Karl Brooks, the EPA’s regional administrator in Kansas City, Mo., said a “well-understood principle” requires Kansas to follow minimum federal standards in issuing permits and regulating air pollution.
If it doesn’t, the letter said, EPA will “exercise its oversight authority.” Mark Smith, regional EPA chief of air permitting, said ultimately, it could issue permits instead of Kansas.
But Huelskamp questioned whether the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases without congressional action.
Texas and at least 14 other states are in court, challenging the EPA’s finding in December that greenhouse gases are dangerous to human health — a key step toward new rules.
As for Brooks’ letter, Huelskamp said, “It’s the typical bullying tactics of the EPA.”
Environmentalists are staying out of the debate. Many believe EPA’s regulation would be more dependable because KDHE faces pressure from governors and legislators. Many also remain upset with Parkinson over his deal with Sunflower.
“There’s simply no need to waste time in the Legislature,” said Sierra Club spokeswoman Stephanie Cole. “The Legislature simply does not have the ability to prevent the federal government from regulating greenhouse gases.”