Category Archives: Environment

Brownback: Preserving environment is conservative, biblical

environmentGov. Sam Brownback noted in an NBC News interview that environmental issues haven’t “been an area of interest in my wing of the Republican Party – the conservative wing of the party.” But he argued that it’s a natural fit. “To conserve and be responsible for our natural resources is a very conservative position to take,” he said. “But it’s also about taking care of what God gave you.” In addition to his efforts to preserve the state’s water supply, Brownback noted the investment in Kansas in wind energy. “I think God gave us a beautiful place,” Brownback said. “He gave us a fabulous aquifer. And I think we need to be responsible with that and see that future generations can use that as well.”

Rebound in lesser prairie chicken numbers is good news

lesserprairiechickenPeople on all sides of the lesser prairie chicken fight should cheer survey results showing that the population has increased about 20 percent in a year. According to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, biologists estimated the numbers of lesser prairie chickens in parts of the five-state range at 22,415 this spring, up from 18,747 in spring 2013. That compares with the 2012 estimate of more than 30,000. The biggest recent gains, which the service linked to good rains, were seen in south-central Kansas, the northeast Texas Panhandle and northwestern Oklahoma. But the bird, which was listed as threatened in March by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is still the subject of multiple lawsuits. Kansas and Oklahoma are challenging the federal action, while environmental groups are suing because they want more federal protection of the lesser prairie chicken.

Public wants action on climate change

coalplant3More than 6 in 10 Americans think action is needed to combat climate change, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey. What’s more, 57 percent support requiring companies to reduce greenhouse gases, even if it would mean higher utility bills for consumers. Also, 67 percent support a recent Environmental Protection Agency proposal to set strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants, which was not affected by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday limiting some of EPA’s authority.

Kansas’ reliance on coal power could cost it

coalplantholcombOf the 50 states, Kansas generates the 11th-highest percentage of its electricity from coal, or 63 percent as of March, according to the Washington Post. As a result, Kansas could be affected more than most states by proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules limiting carbon output from existing coal-fired power plants. West Virginia has the highest reliance on coal, at 95 percent; Idaho has the lowest reliance, at zero percent (78 percent of its electricity comes from hydroelectric power). Nineteen states get more than half their electricity from coal-fired plants. According to the EPA proposal, Kansas’ goal would be to cut emissions 23 percent by 2030.

Delegation united against study of climate change

CORRECTION Arctic MeltAll four U.S. representatives from Kansas voted last week to block the Defense Department from spending any money to study the effects of climate change and its impact on national security, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. The amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act also bars the Pentagon from implementing the United Nations’ Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, the subject of a one-world conspiracy theory pushed by some conservatives. Tom Brandt, spokesman for Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, said that Jenkins does not doubt the link between man-made carbon emissions and global climate change, calling the link “pretty undeniable.” He said the issue is who sets policy, Congress or the executive branch. The Defense Department has participated in the National Climate Assessment program since 1989, during the George H.W. Bush administration.

Big spenders didn’t prevail on renewable energy standards

turbinewindmillSupporters of renewable energy standards were outspent about 10-to-1 during this past legislative session, yet they were able to fend off six attempts to remove the standards, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Three groups backing the standards spent $62,040, according to a new report by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. In comparison, two groups that opposed the standards – the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Senior Consumer Alliance (which has ties to AFP) – spent $386,853 and $40,470, respectively, mostly on mass media advertising.

Reid wrong on Koch Industries’ role in climate change

kochindustriesSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., continued his rhetorical assault on the Koch brothers last week, later earning three Pinocchios from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker feature for claiming they “are one of the main causes” of climate change. Referring to a study by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Reid said Koch Industries ranked “as one of the nation’s biggest air and water polluters, period. In one year Koch Industries released 31 million pounds of toxic air. How much is that? It’s more than Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil and General Electric combined emitted.” Not so, the Fact Checker found, noting the study puts Koch Industries 27th among polluters, that Dow and Exxon Mobil “actually had more than double the emissions of Koch Industries” and that Koch doesn’t even appear on global lists of the top carbon-emitting companies. The Fact Checker concluded: “We understand Reid’s overall point, but it’s important to stick to the facts when making such claims.” Meanwhile, Politico reported last week that the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity “intends to spend more than $125 million this year on an aggressive ground, air and data operation benefiting conservatives.” No wonder Reid is rattled.

Belated urgency on contaminated well water

waterfaucetIt’s good news that 10 affected homes have been hooked up to the municipal water supply, with service promised soon to the rest of the 114 homes in west Wichita where officials say private wells were contaminated by dry-cleaning chemicals. “First thing’s first: Getting water service to the folks as quickly and expeditiously as possible,” said Alan King, the city of Wichita’s director of public works and utilities, noting that the process is being streamlined and the fee details will be worked out later with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “Our No. 1 concern right now is that everyone has healthy water to drink,” is how KDHE spokesman Ashton Rucker put it. Urgency is certainly in order now. But where was it five years ago, when KDHE first detected the tetrachloroethylene, a likely carcinogen, in a monitoring well on West Kellogg?

Delay in alerting residents to water pollution is outrageous

waterfaucetWhat’s even more alarming than the report that the groundwater in several northwest Wichita neighborhoods is contaminated is the news that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment discovered the pollution in 2009. Why didn’t KDHE tell residents about the pollution sooner? Funding used for testing private wells wasn’t made available through the KDHE’s Dry Cleaning Remediation Program until earlier this year. So some residents have been drinking and bathing in potentially cancer-causing water for the past four years because KDHE couldn’t scrape up some money to test a few more wells? That’s outrageous.

How can renewable-energy supporters compete with Kochs?

turbinewindmillSenate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, argued Tuesday that a bill blocking another gambling vote in Sedgwick County for 18 years was needed because opponents of expanded gaming have difficulty competing with the resources of casino owner Phil Ruffin. “He spends a lot of money on influencing legislators,” Wagle said. But just a few hours later, the Senate approved a bill revoking the state’s renewable portfolio standard. The standard has helped generate billions of dollars of investment in Kansas and is overwhelmingly supported by the public, according to a recent survey. But the standard is opposed by the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which spent more than a million dollars last election purging moderates from the state Senate. How can supporters of renewable energy, which includes faith groups, compete with those resources?

KDHE quietly approved massive hog-farm expansion

seaboardhogsGiven all the controversy, debate and public hearings in the late 1990s and early 2000s about corporate hog farming, it was stunning how quietly the Kansas Department of Health and Environment approved a massive expansion of a Seaboard Foods hog-feeding operation in western Kansas. The permit was signed on Feb. 26 but wasn’t public until last week, when the Sierra Club sent out a news release criticizing the state’s approval, Associated Press reported. With the expansion, the facility in Greeley County will become the nation’s second-largest hog-feeding operation, according to the Sierra Club, and will generate roughly twice as much waste as the city of Wichita. Concerns about corporate hog farms haven’t changed: pollution, overwhelming smell and depletion of water supply.

Is climate-change denial now official Sedgwick County policy?

Arctic MeltSedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau left no doubt that he was speaking in his official capacity when he testified last week in Topeka in favor of a resolution that opposes President Obama’s climate action plan. His written testimony began: “The Sedgwick County Commission would like to voice our support for” House Resolution 6043 “and encourage the committee members to support its passage.” In his remarks, he also criticized Obamacare and a short-lived USDA program called “Meatless Mondays.” But does the full County Commission really deny, as the resolution does, that human activity has anything to do with global sea level and that greenhouse-gas emissions have anything to do with Earth’s temperature? If so, it’s at odds with 97 percent of climate scientists and the major U.S. scientific agencies.

Why does Schmidt care about Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan?

schmidtWhy did Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt file a brief this month opposing an agreement to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, which is a thousand miles from Kansas? Because agriculture interests are worried that the Environmental Protection Agency will next want to clean up the Mississippi River basin. “The issue is whether EPA can reach beyond the plain language of the Clean Water Act and micromanage how states meet federal water-quality standards,” Schmidt wrote in the brief on behalf of Kansas and 20 other states, mostly in the Midwest and South. A federal District Court ruled last fall that the EPA didn’t exceed its authority. The ruling also noted that the cleanup plan was developed with the participation of all states in the watershed over a period of years. Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, doesn’t appreciate the intervention by Schmidt and others. “Don’t tell us how to restore clean water in our backyard,” he said.

Kansans like wind power, energy standard

turbinecowsMore than 9 in 10 Kansas voters support using renewable energy, according to a new poll conducted by North Star Opinion Research and commissioned by environmental and wind-energy advocates. And though some state lawmakers, including House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, want to revoke the state’s renewable energy standard, 75 percent of voters surveyed (including 73 percent of Republicans) support the 2009 law requiring Kansas utility companies to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. More than two-thirds of voters would support raising the energy standard to 25 percent, even if that would cost them more, according to the poll. Majorities of voters said they would be willing to pay between $1 and $5 more per month to increase the renewable energy standard.

Brownback a champion of climate change?

Arctic MeltGov. Sam Brownback likely winced at being included in a list of “eight champions of climate change in the U.S. in 2013” published in the Guardian newspaper. Brownback was cited for fighting off “cynical attacks to repeal state renewable portfolio standards.” Brownback’s motive likely was more economic than environmental, as energy standards and wind tax credits have helped fuel billions of dollars of investment in wind projects in Kansas in the past few years.

Could water planning be Brownback’s legacy?

To his credit, Gov. Sam Brownback continues to press for visionary action on water, calling last week for administration officials and community and business leaders to come together on a 50-year plan by next November. Speaking at the Governor’s Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas in Manhattan, he singled out sustaining the Ogallala Aquifer and the state reservoirs as “top-of-the-barrel” challenges. “This is not to cast aspersions on anybody,” the governor said, according to the Salina Journal. “This is where we are. Work together and work it out. We have to solve a problem.” Solving that problem would make water planning rival tax cutting as Brownback’s legacy.

Transmission lines key to surge in wind power

One of the reasons why Kansas was slow to tap its wind-energy potential was that it lacked the infrastructure to transmit that power to energy markets. But thanks to the work spearheaded by former Gov. Mark Parkinson, which the Brownback administration has admirable continued, new transmission lines are helping move power both across Kansas and out of state. The Kansas Corporation Commission approved last week the route for a new 60-mile transmission line in north central Kansas being developed by ITC Great Plains and Mid-Kansas Electric Company. New transmission lines – along with the state’s renewable energy standards, which Parkinson also spearheaded – are a key reason why the amount of wind energy generating capacity in Kansas more than doubled in 2012, boosting Kansas into the top 10 states for wind power.

Curbing water use would have big impact on aquifer

If current irrigation trends continue, 69 percent of the groundwater stored in the Ogallala Aquifer in western Kansas will be depleted in 50 years, according to a new study published by David Steward, a professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University, and other K-State researchers. But the hopeful news is that immediately reducing water use could extend the aquifer’s life through the year 2110. “We really wrote the paper for the family farmer who wants to pass his land on to his grandchildren knowing that they will have the same opportunities that farmers do today,” Steward said in a news release. “As a society, we have an opportunity to make some important decisions that will have consequences for future generations, who may or may not be limited by those decisions.”

Kansas lawmakers speak out against new pollution rules

It isn’t surprising that Kansas GOP lawmakers oppose President Obama’s move this week to increase regulation of carbon-dioxide emissions. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said that Obama’s plan would “do little to curb emissions at great cost to the American workforce. And states like ours – Kansas – which rely upon coal for electricity and have a large manufacturing base would be especially hurt.” Moran contends that the regulations will drive business overseas, which wouldn’t reduce worldwide CO2 emissions. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said he wants a “more prosperous America, one that can take care of its environment and utilize its abundant resources. I only wish the president would agree.”

Four years later and no new coal plant

One of the first acts of Gov. Mark Parkinson’s brief administration was a May 2009 deal to allow an 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant to be built near Holcomb. The agreement, which ended a nasty political fight, also led to long-sought clean-energy initiatives in Kansas including a renewable portfolio standard. That RPS lives on, surviving an attempted legislative rollback just this year. But the power plant remains unbuilt and recently took another legal blow, when a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s request to overturn a lower court ruling that had stalled the plant’s construction. Now, Sunflower CEO Stuart Lowry told the Garden City Telegram, “the question will be whether or not additional approvals will be required and, if so, what the scope of the environmental impact study will be.” There are other legal hurdles. And after four years it’s fair to wonder whether the plant will ever be financed and built, or whether the market for the power still exists. But Lowry argued: “The cost to date and the foreseeable cost are clearly outweighed by the benefits, even today.”

When groundwater runs out, it’s gone for good

The wet spring is helping alleviate the drought in parts of Kansas. But as a recent New York Times article noted, lack of water is still a major problem for western Kansas farmers who depend on irrigation. “In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry,” the Times reported. “In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers. And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.”

House leader promotes anti-climate-change book she didn’t read

Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, initially said she didn’t recall writing the letter on her office stationery that was sent along with an anti-climate-change book to the homes of Kansas House members. But she later confirmed that she wrote the letter endorsing the book, which she has not read. Parts of Mast’s endorsement were taken almost word for word from a Publishers Weekly review of the book, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. The book, “The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism,” was distributed by the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank funded in part by Charles and David Koch.

Oil sands also create dirty waste product

One environmental concern about piping Canada’s oil sands to U.S. refineries is all the petroleum coke that will be left over from the refining process. The Environmental Protection Agency no longer allows new licensing permits for burning the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste product, the New York Times reported. As a result, most petroleum coke is sold to Mexico and China, which don’t have as many pollution rules. Companies associated with Koch Industries and Bill Koch are leading exporters of the product. Another concern is where to store the petroleum coke before it is exported. The Times reported on a three-story pile of petroleum coke that covers an entire city block in Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit.

Plan now to avoid more fish kills, fines

Remember the 850 dead fish. If that falls short as a rallying cry for upgrading Wichita’s sewer and water infrastructure, though, city leaders need only recall the sting of the $243,195 state fine for the 2012 sewage release that killed those fish in the Arkansas River. And the city got off easy this time, because KDHE let what would have been another $455,000 fine be spent instead on a citywide study of deferred sewer maintenance. The $11 million the city has banked for sewer repairs this year and next is great as far as it goes. But as Mayor Carl Brewer warned in his State of the City address this year, the city will need $2.1 billion over the next 30 years to maintain or replace the majority of its water, sewer and storm-drainage systems. Brewer and the rest of the City Council need to find the money and political will soon to tackle this long-term challenge, so more fish kills and fines can be avoided.

Pro-con: Should U.S. boost energy exploration?

Can increasing American energy exploration improve our economy? Yes, but more to the point, it’s already happening. Energy – and the jobs and growth it will drive – is the foundation for our economic recovery. Our nation is blessed with some of the most abundant energy resources on Earth. Thanks in large part to the technology-driven shale boom, we have enough natural gas to power America for 120 years. We also have at least 200 years of oil under our lands and off our shores and more than 250 years of coal. And that’s just what we can recover with today’s technology. With continued advancements, we will be able to access even greater domestic supplies in the future. Energy presents the biggest opportunity to build a stronger foundation and a brighter future for our country. The 21st century has brought America an era of energy abundance. Let’s make the most of it for the sake of our economy, competitiveness and national security. – Karen A. Harbert, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Abandoning fossil-fuel exploration altogether is not feasible for America. But significant further government support of oil and gas drilling in places like the Alaskan wilderness or the American heartland in the name of economic growth would be a huge mistake. Instead, for our national security, economic growth and a sound energy policy, what we need is to shift to promoting industries and technologies that focus on clean, renewable and alternative sources of energy. Clean-tech is a fast-growing global industry that holds the potential to fix our current climate and other environmental challenges and build the jobs of tomorrow. The 2010 BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and the serious concerns raised about hydraulic fracturing have not merely been the results of chance. Nor are the extreme storms, droughts and heat waves, which are expected to rise in frequency and severity with fossil fuel use-linked climate change. The U.S. cannot afford to invest and lock itself into many more decades of reliance on the dirty and unsustainable sources of energy of the past. – Tseming Yang, Santa Clara University