Brownback signs Kansas' clean air act into law

4/24/2014

By RENÉE JEAN

By RENÉE JEAN

rjean@gctelegram.com

HOLCOMB — Tucked into this year's legislative bills is one that has not made as large a splash as school finance, but was nevertheless being closely followed in southwest Kansas.

House Bill 2636, the Kansas clean air act, which grants the Kansas Department of Health and Environment the authority to formulate its own plan for meeting air-quality standards, was strongly advocated for by Sunflower Electric Corp.

The wholesale electric cooperative supplies 200,000 Kansans with 605 MW of power using coal, natural gas and wind.

Gov. Sam Brownback signed the energy bill Wednesday at the Sunflower Electric substation in Holcomb, after attending two ribbon cuttings in Garden City.

The Holcomb station supplies 349 MW for Sunflower and is the largest of the cooperative's substations. Prior to signing the bill, Brownback held a question-and-answer session with Sunflower employees, board members and invited guests to explain the bill's importance. He took a brief tour of the coal-fired plant, as well.

The Sierra Club and Kansans for Clean Air had opposed Kansas' Clean Air Act, saying it would limit the state's ability to participate in federal efforts to curtail carbon emissions from existing electric plants.

The governor, however, said he believes Kansas can regulate its own air quality much more efficiently than agencies in Washington D.C.

"We are expecting later this summer green house emission regulations to come out of the federal government and put requirements on units like Holcomb on greenhouse gas emissions," Brownback told the invited assembly at the Holcomb substation. "And what we are saying is, let us, the state of Kansas, handle this. Rather than it being dictated by the EPA, we want to handle this."

Brownback offered as an analogy, the state's Medicaid program, Kancare.

"That's a federal-state program," Brownback said. "The federal government puts up most of it, but we have a waiver because we believe we can cover more people for less price, which is what we're doing with Kancare.

"So what we're saying is, let us handle greenhouse gas emissions. We think we can do it more effectively than you can at the federal level, and we want to look at all factors, including economic. That's what we are doing with this bill. It's a push on our part to do this."

Brownback believes the EPA regulations might shut down electric production plants like Holcomb. Clare Gustin, vice president of member services and external affairs for Sunflower, agreed with the governor's concerns.

"The Clean Air Act has been written in bits and pieces over many years," she said. "In this particular section, which deals with new source performance standards, the state has the primary responsiblity to develop the program for how you would implement requirements for existing power plants. That's very significant."

Gustin said there was concern that a one-size-fits-all approach would result in vastly higher electric rates for customers.

"We're not one-size-fits-all," she said. "We are all different. We have different kinds of power generation. Sunflower has lots of wind and lots of gas. Westar has nukes. Having flexibility, that's important."

Gustin believes it's important to consider costs and reliability along with health and other concerns.

"What could happen is, OK, they come up with a scheme and it doubles everyone's electric rates. Well, that can't work in terms of grid reliability," she said. "This bill notes that as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is expected to develop a plan for how are we going to regulate greenhouse gases, they have to consider costs and reliability, which is an impact to the electric grid and then also gives the agency the flexibility instead of a one-size-fits-all, so we are ahead of the game.

"At some point the EPA is going to tell states what they think about this, but Kansas Department of Health will at some point begin thinking about what the regulations will look like, and now they have a clear message from our elected leaders that we are going to worry about rates."

Gustin said Sunflower worked closely with the governor's office on the measure, and that Brownback was on board with it from day one.

"It is rewarding to have the governor come here and say this is where we want to sign this legislation," she said. "It's going to impact every single Kansan who pays an electric bill, not just western Kansas."

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