Sierra Club lobbyist says Legislature’s fiscal headaches create opening for revenue-producing, sustainable activities

Zack Pistora, Kansas lobbyist for the Sierra Club, expounds on a point in the Sierra Club's 2017 legislative agenda during a gathering Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence.

A Kansas Legislature desperate for cash could be a good thing for possible revenue-producing sustainable initiatives, a lobbyist says.

Zack Pistora, the Sierra Club’s lobbyist for Kansas, shared thoughts about the state’s biggest environmental issues and proposed solutions that would be part of Sierra Club’s 2017 legislative agenda with a gathering of about 40 people Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway.

Pistora, who has been the state’s Sierra Club lobbyist for six years, said lawmakers were telling him not to propose too many bills this year because they would be focused on the state’s large and growing revenue shortfall and crafting a new K-12 school funding formula.

Nonetheless, Pistora identified a number of issues from water to agriculture to energy that he said need the state’s attention. He anticipated a friendlier reception to environmental concerns as a result of changes in House and Senate chambers after last year’s elections. The dire straits of the state’s fiscal outlook could be a game-changer for environmental advocates if they framed proposals as revenue generators or potential cost-saving measures, he said.

Pistora gave examples of how that could be done through more reliance on Kansas resources. The state continues to produce 60 percent of its energy from Wyoming coal despite the abundance of wind energy potential, he said. Kansas was making strides with 28 percent of the state’s production now coming from renewable energy.

Wind energy was growing and advances continue to make solar power production cheaper, Pistora said. Advances in efficiency and cost of battery power storage and the potential to store energy as compressed air underground are big game-changers, he said.

A measure the Sierra Club favors to help grow the percentage of renewable power sources is the deregulation of electrical utilities so that consumers could buy their power directly from producers, Pastor said. That would encourage further investment in alternate energy production, create jobs and provide additional sources of state revenue, he said.

“What if you could buy your energy from Wal-Mart, produced from solar panels on their roof?” he asked. “Obviously, the electrical utilities don’t like deregulation. We have a regulated monopoly of electrical utilities.”

Another legislative measure the Sierra Club favors is state encouragement of low-cost financing for measures that provide energy and water savings, Pistora said. The loans would be backed with the borrowers’ homes or properties, he said.

Also on the Sierra Club’s 2017 agenda is a call for a fracking bill, Pistora said. There is no longer any doubt that deep water injection wells were behind Kansas leaping from one of five states least at risk for earthquakes to one of the top five, he said.

The Sierra Club is calling for uniform, statewide regulations on deep water injections, as well as for fees on using the fracking procedure, Pistora said. It is also asking for a full committee hearing exploring the range of the problems, which would demonstrate the costs from fracking-related earthquakes, he said.

“They haven’t heard from the victims,” he said. “They haven’t heard from the insurance companies.”

Water is the state’s biggest environmental issue with much of the concerns caused by corn production, which not only creates pollution from the overuse of fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides but that is also the leading cause of the continued depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, Pistora said.

The Sierra Club’s proposals to address the latter problem include a depletion reserve allowance tax, such as that charged for the state’s oil and gas wells, and fees for irrigating, Pistora said.

“Twenty percent of farmers are using 80 percent of the state’s water, primarily through irrigation,” he said. “I think irrigators should be a little more responsible.”

The state should also encourage less cultivation of corn and more of fruits and vegetables, Pistora said. Kansas produces 4 percent of the $700 million in fruits and vegetables it consumes annually, he said. Increasing in-state production of those foodstuffs would benefit the state financially and environmentally, he said.