Topeka The chairmen of the House and Senate committees that deal with utilities and the environment sent a letter last week urging the Kansas Corporation Commission to cease any efforts to develop a plan for complying with new federal requirements to reduce carbon emissions from electric-generating plants.
The letter from Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, and Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, was written shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court put a hold on enforcement of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan until legal challenges filed by several states, including Kansas, are resolved.
And while it was phrased in the form of a request, not a directive, it still raised eyebrows in the House Energy and Environment Committee Monday because lawmakers last year passed a bill requiring KCC and the Department of Health and Environment to develop such a plan.
"Maybe I misunderstood your remarks, but I'd like clarification, but what gives the chair, and the chair of the Senate committee, the authority to direct a state agency to either perform an act or not perform an act?" asked Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence.
"I don't have an answer for you on that, other than the fact that I was called upon to participate in a meeting, and so a request was made in that meeting to do that, so we agreed to do it," Hedke said.
Hedke brought up the subject of the letter during a hearing in which the Kansas Attorney General's office briefed the committee on the basis behind its challenge to the Clean Power Plan.
During that hearing, Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, asked whether the Legislature needed to pass another bill to supersede the one passed last year.
Hedke said that issue had been discussed during a private meeting he attended last week in which the Supreme Court's action was discussed.
"One of the results of that meeting was that we — we being the Senate Utilities chair and myself — forwarded a letter and delivered it to KDHE and KCC to halt any further activity with respect to planning for the (State Implementation Plan) until the stay would be lifted," Hedke said. "So, that has happened."
In fact, the letter was directed only to the KCC's director of utilities, Jeff McClanahan. Copies were distributed to Gov. Sam Brownback, Senate President Susan Wagle, House Speaker Ray Merrick and all three KCC commissioners.
Later Thursday, the Senate passed a utilities bill that included an amendment from Olson directing the KCC to put its planning on hold until the litigation is settled.
That bill has not yet been considered by the House, although Hedke said it would be in the near future.
Jeff Cheney, chief deputy attorney general, said his office believes EPA overstepped its authority by enacting the rules.
"Based upon an obscure and rarely used provision of the Clean Air Act, (the Clean Power Plan) was designed to transform the domestic energy industry," he said. "And the rule manifested EPA's policy judgment, that was never enacted or authorized by Congress, that coal-fired electric power generation should be systematically disfavored in this country."
Zack Pistora, a lobbyist for the Kansas Sierra Club, said after the meeting that the attorney general and the Legislature are moving in the wrong direction regarding carbon emissions.
"The costs and risks of climate change continue to threaten our economy and quality of life," he said. "In a time where leaders across the world are taking action to address one of the greatest challenges and responsibilities of our time, Kansas leaders are suggesting we don't address climate change."
Oral arguments in the multistate challenge to the Clean Power Plan are scheduled for June 2 before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, Cheney said.
He said a decision is expected in the early fall, but no matter how the appellate court rules, the case is almost certain to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.