Coal bill clears the House

TOPEKA – The Kansas House this morning passed legislation that, among other things, seeks to resurrect plans for two western Kansas coal plants.

The vote was 79-44 – short of the 84 votes needed to override a promised veto by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

But the Republicans pushing the legislation – HB 2014 – say not to read too much into that. They’ve got weeks, probably, to shore up votes, and there are a lot of variables in play. Here are two:

1) Will Sebelius even be around to veto the bill? If she departs for Washington, will her successor, Mark Parkinson, be able to hold plant opponents together?

2) Will the bill get caught up with other measures, like it did last year, with lawmakers offering support for the coal plants in exchange for help on other bills?

The Senate, meanwhile, has similar legislation. Passage in the Senate is all but assured, and it’s likely the voters are there for an override attempt (they were last year anyway).

The debate, recall, centers on whether the state’s top regulator had the authority to block Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s plans for two coal-fired power plants when the plants meet all existing environmental rules. The legislation would strip the discretion KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby used when he rejected the plants. He cited the plants’ carbon emissions as the reason.

The bill also contains provisions designed to make it easier for citizens to use their own solar panels and wind turbines to generate power, mandates renewable energy percentages for utilities, and calls for stricter state building energy codes.

Stay tuned. The debate over these coal plants dominated last year’s session, and it’s not going away this year.

– David Klepper, The Kansas City Star