Kansas suspending work on limiting power plants’ carbon emissions

This Feb. 2, 2007 file photo shows Sunflower Electric Cooperative's coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kan.

TOPEKA — Kansas is suspending its work on a plan for complying with federal regulations meant to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions from power plants.

A new state law putting the work on hold takes effect May 19 and would make Kansas at least the third state to take such a step following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in February. Lawmakers in Virginia and Wyoming included similar measures in budget legislation earlier this year, though Oklahoma’s governor issued an executive order last year to keep her state from drafting a plan.

The high court issued a 5-4 decision staying the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s rules requiring states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants until legal challenges to the regulations are resolved. Kansas was among 27 states challenging the rules, finalized by President Barack Obama’s administration last year.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed Kansas’ measure into law last week after the GOP-dominated Legislature approved it by wide margins late last month. The Kansas law prohibits state agencies from conducting studies or doing other work toward drafting a compliance plan until the U.S. Supreme Court’s stay is lifted.

Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley called the EPA’s rules “an unprecedented expansion of its regulatory power” and “an affront to our constitutional order and the rights of our citizens.”

“We will continue to oppose these regulations in court in order to protect Kansans from unnecessary increases in energy costs,” she said in an emailed statement.

But Zack Pistora, a Sierra Club lobbyist, said Kansas should reduce carbon emissions linked by scientists to climate change, regardless of whether the EPA rules are in effect or the federal government presses states to act.

“Climate change isn’t going to go away,” Pistora said. “Here, we’re just sitting idle while our state becomes more susceptible to the damage.”

The EPA told states law year that they must start reducing carbon emissions by 2022. EPA’s target for Kansas was a 43 percent reduction by 2030.

Republican lawmakers last year reluctantly approved a law spelling out how the state would draft a plan for complying with the EPA’s rules.

Last year’s law authorized the state Department of Health and Environment to draft a plan and allowed “flexible regulatory mechanisms” or voluntary agreements with utilities. But it also said the agency must consider whether reductions can “reasonably be achieved” at each power plant, can’t force plants to switch fuels and must obtain a special legislative committee’s approval before submitting the plan to EPA.

Republican lawmakers strongly criticized EPA’s rules but also said they didn’t want the federal government to impose its own plan on Kansas because the state wouldn’t draft one.

Kansas Senate Utilities Chairman Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican, said suspending work now makes sense because studies conducted now by the state could be outdated by the time legal challenges are resolved.

“What we did was put everything on hold and wait for the U.S. Supreme Court,” Olson said.