Archive for Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Coal bill vetoed; override work begins

Governor says legislation would harm environment, jeopardize Kansans’ health, lead to higher elctric rates

March 26, 2008

— Fight or compromise?

After Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed legislation Friday that would authorize the construction of two coal-fired power plants, legislative leaders vowed to try to push for votes to override the veto.

That could set the stage for a dramatic showdown between the Legislature and Sebelius over the issue that has dominated the legislative session and attracted national attention in the debate over climate change and the effect of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired electric generation plants.

"I strongly disagree with the governor on this very important public policy issue," said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.

Sebelius made good on her promise Friday to strike down the legislation, saying the bill would harm the environment, jeopardize Kansans' health and lead to higher electric rates for customers. Along with the veto, Sebelius signed an executive order establishing an advisory panel of business leaders, energy experts and scientists to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Kansas.

"Instead of building two new coal plants, which would produce 11 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, I support pursuing other, more promising energy and economic development alternatives," Sebelius said.

Support for plants

Supporters of the two 700-megawatt units in southwestern Kansas decried Sebelius' position, saying the project would be the cleanest coal-fired facility in the state, comply with all existing regulations and benefit the economy.

"Not allowing clean coal technology to be part of Kansas' energy future will result in a devastating increase in the average Kansan's electric bill," Morris said.

Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. and two out-of-state companies proposed building the $3.6 billion plants near Holcomb. Under the proposal, about 85 percent of the power would be sold to customers outside of Kansas.

Last October, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby denied permits for the project, citing concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and their effect on climate change.

Legislators approved a bill that would essentially require that the permits for the plants be given and strip Bremby of much of his environmental authority.

Counting override votes

After the veto Friday, Morris and House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said they would try to get the two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate that would be needed to override Sebelius' action. But neither said when they would try the overrides.

The legislation - House substitute for Senate Bill 327 - passed with more than a two-thirds majority in the 40-member Senate, 31-7, but fell short of the 84 votes needed in the 125-member House when it was adopted, 75-47.

State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, voted against the bill and said the time is now for supporters of the plants to negotiate with Sebelius.

"We've squandered a lot of time trying to tie it to an issue of just these two coal plants instead of talking about where we need to go in terms of a statewide energy program," Francisco said.

But state Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, who has voted for the bill, said legislative leaders should conduct an override vote.

"I think that the Legislature has truly tried to come up with something that while, yes, it includes a coal-fired plant, it also includes some of the things that we need to do to have an energy policy in place, and have wind and other forms of renewables," Pine said.

House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney of Greensburg also has voted for the bill but believes another piece of proposed legislation will be forthcoming that will include more "green things."

Francisco said an override attempt also opens up the legislative process to more arm-twisting and deal-making that may not be in the state's best interest.

"I would be concerned there would be an even greater attempt to limit other initiatives from going forward again over this single bill that addresses only 200 megawatts of energy for Kansas," she said.

In the past, Sebelius has offered to support one 660-megawatt coal-fired unit and a commitment from Sunflower Energy to increase wind power and make other environmental concessions. She said the deal is still there.

"I am hopeful that some serious consideration can now occur," she said.

Sunflower officials have refused the offer, saying it wasn't economically feasible.

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