KCC to open hearings on Clean Power Plan

? The Kansas Corporation Commission has opened what it calls a “general investigation” docket, and it will soon hold public hearings to determine what the state must do to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The KCC’s action is in response to a bill passed during the 2015 legislative session, House Bill 2233, that calls on the KCC and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to develop a plan for complying with the new regulations.

But that bill also gives a special legislative committee — which is headed by two lawmakers who both deny that carbon emissions are a cause of global climate change — veto power over any plan the two agencies adopt.

The Clean Power Plan is a set of regulations recently adopted by the Obama administration that calls on states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by an average of 32 percent over the next 15 years.

In Kansas, however, that rule is much stiffer, calling for a 42 percent reduction, due mainly to the fact that Kansas relies more heavily on coal and other fossil fuels for electricity production than most other states.

KCC spokesman Samir Arif said the agency plans to announce by Jan. 30 a schedule for holding legislative-style hearings to solicit input for developing a compliance plan.

In a carefully worded statement, however, the KCC avoided using the word “compliance,” saying instead that it will examine “re-dispatch options” for Kansas utilities, including the cost of each option and the impact that each option would have on the reliability of the state’s power grid.

“This rule will impact the electric industry in a way that has not been seen since rural electrification in the 1930s,” said KCC Commissioner Pat Apple, a former legislator. “It will affect every budget, every business and every utility company in Kansas. I’m pleased that the commission has opened a docket into this matter, so that we can take a closer look into the rule’s implications, as well as to give members of the public a chance to weigh in, on-the-record.”

The KCC’s announcement comes at the same time world leaders are meeting in Paris in hopes of negotiating a global strategy to combat climate change. But in Kansas, where a significant number of legislative leaders deny that climate change is happening, or that carbon emissions have anything to do with it, the political mood is much different.

In addition to the climate change skeptics in the Legislature, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has joined with 23 other states in a federal lawsuit challenging the EPA’s authority to implement such a rule.

“This new rule appears to have less to do with ‘clean power’ than with centralized economic planning in the energy sector of our economy,” Schmidt said in a statement in August, when the states initially tried, unsuccessfully, to delay the new rules.

But environmental groups in Kansas say the state’s political leaders are moving in the wrong direction.

“We have 190 world leaders getting together in Paris to address this global issue. Meanwhile we have politicians here who are fighting it,” said Rabbi Moti Rieber, director of Interfaith Power and Light, an environmental lobby group in Kansas. “They’re on the wrong side of history, and I think history will look at them very poorly.”