Kansas lawmakers pass bill favoring coal expansion
By Carey Gillam
OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (Reuters) - Backed by powerful business interests, Kansas lawmakers on Tuesday overturned a 2007 decision that rejected a coal-fired power plant expansion in the state, though the vote fell shy of a veto-proof majority.
Lawmakers in the Kansas House voted Tuesday 77-45 for a bill that would allow two coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas. The measure strips authority from Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment Rod Bremby, who last year rejected the expansion because of health risks associated with carbon dioxide emissions and global warming concerns.
Sunflower Electric Power Corp wants to add two 700-megawatt units at an existing facility in western Kansas, and the ruling against the utility prompted outrage from business groups and a Republican-led contingent of state legislators who said the project would create jobs, provide badly needed energy for the area and would keep electricity rates in check.
Bremby's decision pushed Kansas to the forefront of a national debate over the environmental effects of coal-based plants and alternative energy sources.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, has pledged to veto the legislation and the vote in the Kansas House fell short of the 84 votes, or two-thirds majority, needed to override a veto. An earlier Kansas Senate vote did meet that majority.
The measure now heads to a conference committee where senators and House members will draft a final version for both chambers to consider in another vote. Supporters are pledging to come up with the votes needed to survive a veto.
Environmental protection groups, who hoped Kansas would influence more states to reject new coal-fired power plants, said Tuesday the moves by the legislature to give new life to Sunflower expansion were disappointing. But they held onto hopes for a successful veto.
They said legislators should be focused on reducing the state's heavy reliance on coal-fired plants, which provide about 75 percent of its electricity now.
"It is very unfortunate that legislation like this was pushed through so quickly," said Chris Cardinal, spokesman for Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy. "We need to sit down and have a proper discussion about our energy policy in Kansas, and not be engaging in all this gamesmanship and political maneuvering."
(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Walter Bagley)