Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sebelius battles back on coal

By Diane Silver

The fight is on. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has just issued a statement opposing legislation that would resurrect new coal plants her administration has tried to block.

The two Holcomb plants in western Kansas would emit 11 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Legislative leaders support the plants.

Whether or not you think the plants are a great idea, one thing is clear. The struggle over these plants may well tie up and impact other legislation for quite a while.

In the statement issued at 4:35 p.m., Sebelius praises some parts of the legislation, but she talks clearly about her opposition, and she reveals that she had proposed a compromise plan.

Here is part of the governor's release:
Unfortunately, there are some very troubling components of this bill that put Kansans at risk, and would put our state at odds with the rest of the country in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I cannot support these components.

Under the current bill, any coal plant, from anywhere in the country, applying for a permit and meeting the very minimum standards established by the EPA would have to be given a permit. It wouldn’t matter whether Kansas needed the energy or not. All the coal plants that have been denied permits or withdrawn applications in other states would be knocking at our door. Why wouldn’t they? Given the lack of zoning requirements in many of our counties, these plants could be sited anywhere. Kansas would be the coal capital of the country.

The so-called “carbon dioxide emission offset act” will actually promote greater carbon emissions. Around the country the proposals that are being developed for carbon offsets require scientifically-based, verifiable, additional, permanent, and enforceable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, or increases in biological sequestration.

There is simply no relation between the offsets allowed under the bill and actual offsets that occur. The bill provides credit for wind facilities built anywhere in the country since 2000. It allows triple credit for carbon dioxide offset through use of the algae process proposed in the Sunflower plant, and triple credit for converting cultivated land to pasture. The bill also allows credit for one ton of carbon dioxide for each dollar invested in experimental project, regardless of whether carbon dioxide emissions are ever reduced.

The proposed legislation sets such a low monetary penalty for failing to offset ($3 per ton), that there’s no incentive to invest in real offsets. This “penalty” is not in line with the $20-30 estimates made by utility companies or financial analysts, or contained in any of the proposed Congressional legislation. It will not result in a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. If anything, it appears to be an attempt to mislead Kansans that significant action would be taken.

I do not support the section of the bill that prohibits the Secretary from taking action where the federal government has failed to act. Even though the United States Supreme Court told the EPA that it was obligated to regulate carbon dioxide, the EPA has refused to take action. Prohibiting our state agencies from filling voids resulting from federal inaction unnecessarily places our citizens at risk.

I do not support the sections of the bill that strip the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Environment of his critical authority to insist that coal plants meet more stringent standards than those established by the federal agencies to protect the health and environment of Kansans.

Finally, there are critical missing pieces that must be an element of any real and meaningful discussion regarding future Kansas energy policy.

The proposed energy package does nothing to encourage the further development of commercial wind power in our state or enhance transmission development. Nor does it further our voluntary renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that I announced last year. Both of these features are needed to support alternative energy expansion in Kansas and make use of our abundant natural resources.

As I suggested in my State of the State, we need to join the 36 states that have begun or completed development of a comprehensive climate change action plan. It is clear the people of Kansas welcome an informed discussion about our energy future, economic opportunities, and the protection of our environment.

A Blue Ribbon panel of Kansas experts composed of distinguished citizen leaders from business, environment, government and other key sectors of our state economy should be assembled to begin this process. I would welcome the opportunity to partner with the Legislature on moving this process forward as soon as possible. We can rise to the challenges we face only if we commit ourselves to moving forward.

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