Concern for health drove coal-plant decision

An open letter to the people of Kansas:

Of all the duties and responsibilities entrusted to me as governor, none is greater than my obligation to protect the health and well-being of the people of Kansas. And that is why, after months of careful study and consideration, I support the recent decision of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment regarding Kansas’ energy future.

This decision will not only preserve Kansans’ health and uphold our moral obligation to be good stewards of this beautiful land, but will also enhance our prospects for strong and sustainable economic growth throughout our state. Instead of building two new coal plants, which would produce 11 million new tons of carbon dioxide each year, I support pursuing other, more promising energy and economic development alternatives. Kansas has great opportunities in clean energy and alternative fuels.

Kansas’ reliance on coal

Throughout the nation, about 50 percent of electric power is provided by coal. In Kansas, almost 75 percent of our electricity comes from coal, and we are currently 10th in the country for per capita production of greenhouse gas from electric plants. Right now, “clean coal” is a goal, but not a reality. While there is a lot of research under way to capture carbon, or to find ways to clean carbon from the atmosphere, none have yet proven to be successful.

We now know that carbon has a huge impact on the atmosphere, and global warming is very real. In a state like Kansas, where more than 20 percent of our jobs and economy involves agriculture and the land, changes in the climate and atmosphere can be devastating. Less water and hotter temperatures will result in fewer crops and less production, and that affects our state, the country and the world.

Our economy also depends on reliable, affordable electricity for all Kansans. We have solid Kansas utility companies, including Sunflower, which have provided affordable electricity to customers for decades. Recently the Kansas utilities have agreed to be partners on developing alternative energy production, maximizing our wind assets. And they will be leaders in energy efficiency and conservation efforts, so we can lower our overall energy consumption without sacrificing economic growth.

In 2001 Sunflower Electric Cooperative applied for an air quality permit for a single 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant. The permit was granted by the previous administration, but the company chose to delay their building plans, and the permit expired.

Then, in 2006, a new application was filed for a far larger project. Sunflower proposed to build three new coal plants, far exceeding the needs of Kansas customers. During the process, Sunflower withdrew the application for one of the plants. Still only 15 percent of the energy produced in the remaining two plants would be used in Kansas; the remaining 85 percent would be sold to Colorado and Texas. So Kansans would have 15 percent of the energy and 100 percent of the pollution and environmental impact of 11 million new tons of CO2 each year. That is the equivalent of putting nearly two million new cars on Kansas roads in one year.

Threat of carbon dioxide

During the last several months, extended study and careful deliberation has been under way by the Department of Health and Environment, trying to determine the impact of this project on the health and well-being of our citizens.

Throughout the nation, there is a growing recognition of the harm caused by carbon. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the EPA to determine the effects of carbon, and stated that the agency had the authority to impose regulations. Internationally renowned scientists produced further evidence this spring of the connection between global warming and carbon in the atmosphere. More than a dozen states, including Oklahoma, Florida and Texas, have decided, in the last 18 months, not to build new coal plants.

Expense of coal

The other issue looming on the horizon is the very likely probability that coal will become a lot more expensive in the next few years. There is growing pressure for the federal government to develop national standards for carbon emissions, like countries throughout Europe and South America. Many states have already begun that process.

Legislation has been recently introduced in Congress to tax the production of carbon, if that policy is adopted, utility companies and their customers will pay far more for energy that produces carbon, and to spend billions on equipment to clean the atmosphere as thoroughly as possible. Building additional coal plants now is likely to create a significant economic liability for Kansas in the future.

Renewable energy developed and produced here in Kansas uses far less water, a precious natural resource, and produces permanent jobs for Kansans.

Protecting citizens

Several years ago, in a different office, I faced another tough decision. When I was insurance commissioner, the executives and board of directors of Kansas Blue Cross Blue Shield asked me to approve a takeover of the company by an out-of-state insurance company.

After careful study, listening to hundreds of Kansans and looking at the facts, I determined Kansans would be better served by our company, with our directors, owned and operated in Kansas. I made that decision looking out for the health and well-being of the citizens of Kansas who elected me to serve.

This is a similarly tough decision. I am pleased with the careful and extended study of the Department of Health and Environment under the leadership of Secretary Rod Bremby. They have thoroughly analyzed a complex application, and kept the health and well-being of Kansans as the goal.

I am encouraged by this decision and am confident it protects the citizens of our great state.

We will continue to work aggressively for jobs and economic opportunities for western Kansas. We are committed to achieving growth, but we must make smart choices about the future. This project was sited in western Kansas, but its impact was not confined to one part of our state; it’s a decision that affects our entire state and nation. It is critical that our efforts with energy production protect the safety and security of Kansans while pursuing economic opportunities, wherever they may be. This is a decision about all of us – today – and into the future.