The bill last week passed both the state House and Senate, but not with a veto-proof majority. It would overturn an October 2007 decision by Rod Bremby, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, to deny an air permit to the power plants. Bremby cited concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and global warming as reasons for his decision.
The energy bill now headed for the governor's desk also would strip the Kansas Department of Health and Environment of its power to deny permits to such plants.
The two 700-megawatt generators are proposed as extensions for the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation plant near Holcomb, Kansas.
Sunflower Electric Power's coal-fired power plant at Holcomb, Kansas (Photo courtesy Sunflower Electric Power Co.)
"I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing," said Bremby, explaining his decision in October.
Proponents of the plants say carbon dioxide emissions are not regulated by Kansas or the federal government, and the secretary's decision has been criticized by Kansas industry, agriculture and labor organizations for creating uncertainty in KDHE's permitting processes.
On Tuesday, about 100 environmentalists, students, labor unions, health organizations, and faith-based groups traveled from across the state to participate in a Clean Energy Day rally against the coal-fired plants.
They met with legislators, observed hearings and a participated in a rally led by the Lieutenant Governor Mark Parkinson, who said Kansas would have a prosperous future with clean, renewable energy.
The Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy has an online petition to show opposition to new coal plants and support for a Clean Energy Future for Kansas.
The Kansas Natural Resource Council says the energy legislation was written "in secret by Rep. Carl Holmes, Sen. Jay Emler, Rep. Annie Kuether and Sen. Janis Lee. Secret that is, except to Sunflower Electric Company, the permit applicant, who had ample input into the drafting of the bill. Environmental interests were shut out of the process."
"We still have a chance to defeat legislation that would allow the Sunflower coal plants to be built," said the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club.
Clean Energy Day supporters believe Kansas - the third windiest state in the nation - should develop more wind power and solar power.
Teamsters Union representative Bill Moore said at the rally, "Wind energy projects create almost 30 percent more jobs than coal power projects; and with our current economic worries, why aren't we exploring these possibilities rather than taking risks? It just doesn't make sense."
Two public opinion polls conducted on the issue came up with conflicting results. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce says about 60 percent of the Kansans polled in a February 2008 survey disagreed with the denial of the application to expand the Holcomb Station electric generating plant.
This poll, conducted by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Assoc., questioned 500 registered voters between February 21-24. It found that 60 percent of respondents think their legislator should vote to override if Governor Sebelius vetoes a bill to allow expansion at the coal-powered plant.
A different poll, done in November 2007 by Cooper and Secrest Associates, showed that 62 percent of Kansans surveyed support Bremby's decision and 31 percent oppose it.
In addition, three out of four Kansans want the state to increase its commitment to wind-powered energy, according to the poll conducted in November on behalf of The Land Institute, an organization based in Salina that supports renewable energy.
Sunflower Electric Power points out that the energy bill the governor has threatened to veto creates a Kansas renewable portfolio standard of 10 percent by 2012, sets mercury requirements, establishes a net metering program for solar power generation and supports energy efficiency programs.
Sunflower's President and Chief Executive Officer Earl Watkins said March 5, "While we have work ahead of us, the House action today addresses concerns we and others across Kansas have with the KDHE permitting process while bolstering the state's renewable energy and energy efficiency policies."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.