Kansas Governor Vetoes Bill to Allow Coal-Fired Plants

The Sunflower Electric Cooperative runs a coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, above, and sought to build two more.
The Sunflower Electric Cooperative runs a coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, above, and sought to build two more. (By Charlie Riedel -- Associated Press)
By John Hanna
Associated Press
Saturday, March 22, 2008

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed a bill yesterday that would allow construction of two coal-fired power plants in the southwest part of the state and strip some power from the regulator who has blocked them.

Legislators who support the bill have been working for weeks to build the two-thirds majorities they need in both chambers to override Sebelius's veto, which had been expected.

"Of all the duties and responsibilities entrusted to me as governor, none is greater than my obligation to protect the health and well-being of the people of Kansas," Sebelius, a Democrat, said in her veto message.

Supporters of the bill appeared to be short in the House, and it was not clear whether they would try to override.

Senate President Stephen Morris (R) promised that an attempt would be made, but House Speaker Melvin Neufeld (R) was less certain. Once legislators formally receive the message next week, they will have 30 days to attempt an override.

"The people of Kansas expect, and they need, affordable electricity, and so we'll be working to make sure that happens, whether it's a veto override in the next few days or some other way to achieve it," Neufeld said. "We'll just continue to hold options open."

Opinions varied about the significance of Sebelius's action. Stephanie Cole, a Sierra Club spokeswoman, said other states' efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions would be damaged by the two plants.

"It sends a message that Kansas is willing to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem," Cole said of the governor's veto. "Kansas is sort of ground zero right now for the global warming debate."

Ed Legge, spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group representing investor-owned utilities, said the veto is not likely to tip the balance away from coal or other sources.

"This is an ongoing process, and what we all are trying to figure out is where we're going to get energy in the future," Legge said.

Sebelius also issued an executive order establishing an advisory council to make recommendations for reducing greenhouse gases. She reiterated that she is willing to accept a compromise allowing one of the proposed plants to be built, if it comes with a commitment to use technology to capture greenhouse gas emissions and develop wind power.

"I believe we need a comprehensive discussion on energy policy," Sebelius wrote in her message.

The bill is a response to a decision in October by the state's health and environment secretary, Rod Bremby, to deny an air-quality permit to Sunflower Electric Power for two coal-fired plants. The $3.6 billion project has bipartisan legislative support.

Bremby rejected the permit because of the plants' potential emissions of carbon dioxide, which is linked to global warming. Bremby said the state cannot ignore the dangers of climate change.

Sunflower estimated that its new plants would produce 11 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. The utility planned a bioenergy center for capturing all but 4.5 million tons and using it to grow algae that could be converted to fuel. Critics said the technology is too experimental.

Sunflower and a sister company serve about 400,000 customers in 55 western Kansas counties. Its two plants would have a combined generating capacity of 1,400 megawatts, enough to supply the peak needs of 700,000 households, according to one state estimate.

"If not resolved, this veto will unnecessarily raise electric rates for Kansas families and punish our Kansas workers and industries," said L. Earl Watkins Jr., Sunflower's chief executive.

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