Kansas House supports bill to bring back plans for expanding coal-fired generating plant
Kansas City Star, The (MO)-April 5, 2008
Author: DAVID KLEPPER, The Star’s Topeka correspondent
TOPEKA | The fight over a coal-burning power plant goes on, with no resolution in sight as Kansas lawmakers prepared to leave the Capitol for a three-week break.
The House voted 83-41 Friday to resurrect Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s proposed plant expansion, just one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to withstand an expected veto by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. She vetoed a similar bill last month.
The governor and others don’t want the coal-fired generators built in western Kansas because of the damage that emissions potentially could do to the environment. Most legislators think the project should proceed.
Had House Speaker Melvin Neufeld mustered the 84 votes, it would potentially signal enough support to join the Senate in overriding Sebelius’ earlier veto. That would have allowed the plant to be built, barring a court challenge.
But that didn’t happen before the Legislature’s first adjournment, which came with the departure of the Senate at 8:55 p.m. Friday.
The new bill, SB 148, would eliminate the discretion that a state regulator used when he blocked the project last year because of climate change concerns. Most lawmakers say that the decision was arbitrary and unjustified, and that the loss of the expansion would deal a blow to western Kansas and the state’s overall business climate.
Supporters will spend the next three weeks looking for that 84th vote. That makes Rep. Dale Swenson, a Wichita Republican, a very popular guy. Swenson voted no Friday, but he said he would be open to compromise if the right deal came along.
On Friday, he was lobbied heavily by both sides, chatting on the phone with lobbyists, lawmakers and even Sebelius herself.
“I’m not falling for these hard sales pitches,” he said.
But he doesn’t mind the attention.
“If I had voted yes off the bat,” he said, “I wouldn’t be getting all these calls.”
Sebelius hasn’t changed her mind. In a news release about the bill Friday, she said: “I am disappointed that again we have the same elements in a bill that I cannot accept and will not support.”
Should Sebelius veto the new bill, lawmakers would have the chance to override her veto when they return to Topeka next month.
The Senate already voted to override Sebelius’ earlier veto.
Support for the project in the House is growing, as several lawmakers have changed their votes from no to yes since the earliest votes on the project.
To supporters of the project, it’s a question of fairness. The Sunflower plant met all existing environmental regulations but was rejected anyway. Letting the denial stand makes Kansas less attractive to industrial investment, they say, and hurts western Kansas.
Sunflower spokesman Steve Miller said he viewed the shift as a hopeful sign but added: “I don’t want to be optimistic yet. I never realized that it took so much to get through the legislative process.”
Sunflower officials have said they may scrap the project if they don’t have a legislative solution by June.
Environmental groups fighting the project aren’t giving up.
“An entire legislative session has been wasted by intentions to satisfy the agenda of the coal industry,” said Sierra Club spokeswoman Stephanie Cole.
Both bills come with pro-environment provisions, such as new energy-efficiency standards for state offices, incentives for solar power and new requirements that utilities increase their reliance on renewable energy by 2020.
Here’s how area House members voted Friday on the coal plant bill, SB 148.
Republicans voting yes: Anthony Brown, Eudora; Jeff Colyer, Ben Hodge, Tim Owens and Kevin Yoder, all of Overland Park; Mike Kiegerl, Lance Kinzer, Rob Olson and Arlen Siegfreid, all of Olathe; Owen Donohoe and Judy Morrison, both of Shawnee; Ray Merrick, Stilwell; and Kenny Wilk, Lansing.
Democrats voting yes: Mike Peterson, Kansas City, Kan.; Candy Ruff, Leavenworth.
Republicans voting no: Pat Colloton, Leawood; Ronnie Metsker, Overland Park; Kay Wolf, Prairie Village; Terrie Huntington, Fairway; and Jill Quigley and Ron Worley, both of Lenexa.
Democrats voting no: Tom Burroughs, Stan Frownfelter, Broderick Henderson, Margaret Long, Louis Ruiz and Valdenia Winn, all of Kansas City, Kan.; Marti Crow, Leavenworth; Cindy Neighbor, Shawnee; and Sue Storm and Gene Rardin, both of Overland Park.
Here’s how area senators voted Thursday on its coal bill, HB 2919, and on a motion to override a veto of an earlier coal bill.
Republicans voting yes: Barbara Allen and Dennis Wilson, both of Overland Park; Nick Jordan, Shawnee; Karin Brownlee and Julia Lynn, both of Olathe; John Vratil, Leawood; and Roger Pine, Lawrence.
Democrats voting yes: Mark Gilstrap and David Haley, both of Kansas City, Kan.
Republicans voting no: David Wysong, Mission Hills.
Democrats voting no: Chris Steineger, Kansas City, Kan.
Provided By: Knight-Ridder Digital
Index Terms: POLITICS
; Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s
Location(s): TOPEKA; Kansas; Lansing; Kansas City, Kan Personal Name(s): Kathleen Sebelius; Melvin Neufeld; Dale Swenson; Steve Miller; Stephanie Cole; Anthony Brown; Jeff Colyer; Ben Hodge; Tim Owens; Kevin Yoder; Lance Kinzer; Rob Olson; Arlen Siegfreid; Owen Donohoe; Judy Morrison; Ray Merrick; Kenny Wilk; Mike Peterson; Candy Ruff; Ronnie Metsker; Kay Wolf; Terrie Huntington; Jill Quigley; Ron Worley; Tom Burroughs; Broderick Henderson; Margaret Long; Louis Ruiz; Marti Crow; Cindy Neighbor; Sue Storm; Gene Rardin; Barbara Allen; Dennis Wilson; Nick Jordan; Karin Brownlee; Julia Lynn; Roger Pine; Mark Gilstrap; David Haley; David Wysong Record Number: 200804050001KNRIDDERMOKCITYS_coal_040508
Copyright (c) 2008 The Kansas City Star