Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Incredible Kansas coal plant resurrection

By Diane Silver

I've never seen a corporation take such total control of the Kansas Senate before and pay so little attention to the opinions of the people. This afternoon Sunflower Electric Power Corp. succeeded in ramming a bill through the state Senate to resurrect the two huge coal plants it wants to build in western Kansas.

The final vote was a decidedly veto proof 33-7. That is six more than the total number of votes needed to override Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' promised veto.

What's even worse is that the bill is a "gut and go." This means the Senate gutted a bill passed by the House and inserted the coal plant language. Technically speaking, this bill has already passed the House, even though House members never voted on this issue. The bill could be rushed through a conference committee, get a quick vote in the House and be sent to the governor before you or I could blink.

What's even worse than that (yes, really) is the fact that this bill keeps the Kansas Department of Health and Environment from using global warming as a rationale for blocking new coal plants. In short, the Kansas Senate just told KDHE to ignore its duty to protect the citizens of this state and to just shut up and sit in the corner.

Any attempt at creating environmental regulations or at coming up with a comprehensive energy policy was dumped from the bill.

The House is currently working on its own version of the Sunflower-gets-whatever-it-wants legislation. That may be passed, or the House could simply agree with the Senate.

If there was ever a time to call your legislator, this is it.

This bill is Sunflower's baby, but the utility isn't the only Daddy of this weird love child. This legislation was born of two western Kansas lawmakers who lead the Legislature, Senate President Steve Morris and Speaker Melvin Neufeld. Other folks and businesses in the region also support the coal plants, but not as many as one might think.

The real issue, in my mind, is what happens next -- not just to this bill, but afterwards. This is an election year. Will Kansas voters care? Will they throw these bums out?

Here's the Kansas City Star's first take on the vote, an Associated Press story, and the live blogging of the vote by the Climate and Energy Project.

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