Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Big Coal in Kansas: Dare we call it a bribe?

By Diane Silver

I've both covered and observed the Kansas Legislature for 23 years, and I've never seen anything like this: A corporation's $2.5 million donation to the state is announced on the House floor as the House is debating a bill to determine the corporation's financial future. To make this even more, ah, fascinating, the corporation declares that it won't give the money to the state unless the Legislature passes the bill.

I'm a little foggy on the definitions, does one call this a bribe or extortion? And no, I'm not joking.

This is exactly what happened during yesterday's debate in the Kansas House about a bill that would allow the Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build two coal plants near Holcomb, Kan. The Lawrence Journal-World reports:
And (Speaker Melvin) Neufeld, R-Ingalls, noted the plant’s developers, Sunflower Electric Power Corp., have entered into a memorandum of understanding to pay $2.5 million to Kansas State University over 10 years for energy research if the plants get built.

If Sunflower Electric doesn’t get state permits to build by June 1, there’s no deal with KSU, according to the memorandum of understanding, which was distributed to all House members for their perusal.

I don't know what's more disturbing -- the fact that Neufeld and Sunflower did this, or the fact that almost no one in the state seems to care. Except for this one Journal-World story and a few paragraphs in the middle of a Topeka Capital-Journal piece, this bit of legislative maneuvering has been soundly ignored by the media.

The only good news is that the final House action was seven votes short of the number needed to override an expected veto by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Pro-coal lawmakers like Neufeld will now start working to find those votes. They have until the last second of the session in May to do so. No doubt one of the weapons they will use is the $2.5 million -- vote yes or the money vanishes!

And I thought I'd seen everything.

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