Kansas Legislators Protect Coal Power Option

Published May 1, 2009

Kansas House and Senate leaders are negotiating the final language of legislation to prevent the governor’s office from using global warming allegations to justify blocking coal power plant construction in the state.

Legislators Battle Promised Veto

The state’s House and Senate have each passed, by a wide margin, similar bills safeguarding coal power plants from gubernatorial obstruction. The final version of the legislation is expected to have enough legislative support to overcome a promised gubernatorial veto.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), who may leave the state if Congress approves her nomination by President Barack Obama to serve as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has threatened to veto any legislation that would prevent her office from blocking construction of coal power plants. However, the Kansas Senate approved the coal protection bill by a veto-proof margin of 31-9. The House approved the bill by a nearly veto-proof margin of 79-42, and House leaders have expressed confidence they can muster up the few remaining votes necessary to overturn a veto.

Governor Blocking Coal ‘Stimulus’

The legislature became involved in the issue after the governor’s office refused to issue permits—citing alleged global warming concerns—for two coal power plants proposed near Holcomb.

Rep. Bill Wolf (R-Great Bend) points out the power plants will create 300 permanent jobs in Kansas, with a $16 million annual payroll. The power plants will provide inexpensive electricity that can be exported to other states and will keep Kansas energy prices low.

Wolf referred to the legislation as “a Kansas stimulus package without government spending,” according to the Great Bend Tribune on March 1.

More Wind Power Needed?

Alan Rosenblatt, associate director of online advocacy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, argues the legislature should push the state’s residents to move to other power sources.

“It seems to me that Kansas is smack-dab in the middle of the United States’s wind corridor,” said Rosenblatt. “At a time when it is in everyone’s best interest to move away from fossil fuels and towards green energy sources, the Kansas legislature would be sending the wrong signal by committing to the expansion of coal burning instead of investing more into wind energy.”

Wolf notes Kansas is already a leader in wind production and is on schedule to produce 20 percent of its energy from wind power by the year 2020.

Proposed Plants Already Green

The power plants blocked by the Sebelius administration would be among industry leaders regarding environmental impacts. The plants would burn low-sulfur coal mined in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and would be equipped with extensive water and air quality control systems, the cost of which accounts for approximately one-fourth of the total original construction cost of the facility.

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.