Kansas officials riled by EPA’s changes to power plant rule
Topeka Even though many Republicans were critical of the federal government's efforts to cut carbon emissions from power plants, the GOP-dominated Kansas Legislature enacted a law spelling out how the state would comply.
Then came last week and the final version of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's rule, which tightened standards for Kansas and other states. It prompted Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the chairman of the Kansas House's Energy and Environment Committee to suggest that the state must reconsider how it responds to the rule, which is meant to tackle climate change.
"We certainly may have to revisit the legislation that we passed," said the House committee chairman, Republican Rep. Dennis Hedke, of Wichita, who labeled the EPA's changes "absolutely crazy."
Hedke, Brownback and other critics of the EPA argue that utilities will be forced to make expensive changes and dramatically increase electric rates to cover the costs. Critics also argue that electric service could become less reliable.
However, Rabbi Moti Rieber, director of the environmental group Kansas Interfaith Power & Light, said the state can meet its targets because of a burgeoning wind-energy industry and because it has yet to be particularly aggressive about energy efficiency.
"There are a lot of Chicken Littles," he said. "The sky is not falling."
The EPA originally told states they would have to start reducing carbon emissions in 2020. The final version of the rule gives states another two years to start making reductions, but Kansas and 15 other states also received tougher targets to meet by 2030. The old target for Kansas was a 23 percent cut in emissions; the new one is 43 percent.
Brownback called the final version of the rule "twice as bad" and spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said in an emailed statement, "We will reconsider our approach to this illegal rule and determine whether it is in the best of interest of the citizens of Kansas for us to develop a state plan."
Attorney General Derek Schmidt, another Republican, has all but promised to join his colleagues in 15 other states to file a federal lawsuit against the new rule, almost all of them Republican attorneys general and 10 from states with tougher targets to meet. They sent a letter last week to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, asking for the rule to be put on hold and seeking a prompt reply so that the states "can know whether they seek emergency relief in court."
Rieber said critics are exaggerating the potential costs, while ignoring the benefits of avoiding the potential damage from climate change due to man-made greenhouse gases, a link Hedke and Senate Utilities Committee Chairman Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican, have publicly doubted.
"We have to do something about climate change," Rieber said. "If we look at it from that perspective, it's not that onerous."
Rieber also questioned whether Brownback and others had moderated their opposition to the EPA's efforts with the new state law that will stop work on an emissions-reduction plan if the EPA rule is withdrawn or struck down by the courts.
The Kansas law also says the Department of Health and Environment must consider whether reductions can "reasonably be achieved" at each power plant and can't force them to switch fuels. The department, which plans to have a public hearing this fall on the EPA rule, must work with the Kansas Corporation Commission, which sets electric rates, to consider potential costs for consumers.
And, under the law, a new 11-member legislative committee, of which Hedke and Olson are members, must sign off on the Department of Health and Environment's plan before it can be submitted to the EPA. It is expected to meet in November.
"I want to fight," Olson acknowleged, but said that absent the EPA rule being struck down, he wants the state to develop a plan for reducing emissions because federal officials might impose one otherwise.
"Maybe something will change — we get a different president," Olson said.