Clean Power Plan Faces Uncertain Future In Kansas

Aug 4, 2015

The Clean Power Plan  that President Barack Obama announced Monday is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants — the largest source of those emissions — by almost a third by the year 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

How that will play out in Kansas remains to be seen.

Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement Monday criticizing the president’s proposal regarding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules.

“The EPA failed to adequately consider the negative impact this overreaching regulation has on Kansas rate payers, resulting in higher electricity rates and greater uncertainty in grid reliability,” Brownback said in the statement. “The final rule released today is twice as bad for Kansas as the proposed rule released last summer and requires us to review not only the rule itself but reconsider the state’s overall approach to the Clean Power Plan.”

In May, the governor signed a bill that stipulates how Kansas will comply with the new federal regulations. The bill requires the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to submit a compliance plan by the first week of November for approval by a committee of legislators.

It also requires the Kansas Corporation Commission — the agency that regulates the state’s utility companies — to advise the committee on the costs of each plan. The Kansas Attorney General’s Office would determine whether the state implementation plan will affect the state’s legal position in a multi­state lawsuit against the EPA for instituting the rule. If it would undermine litigation against the Clean Power Plan, the KDHE secretary would not be allowed to submit the plan to EPA.

The Clean Power Plan sets individual reduction targets for each state, but leaves it up to the states to decide how to meet those targets. Any state that fails to submit a plan that meets with EPA approval will be regulated under a federal plan developed by the EPA. The largest utility company in Kansas, Westar Energy, hopes it won’t come to that.

“Westar has been supportive from the beginning of putting together a state implementation plan,” Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig said. “We think that … a common-sense Kansas approach would be a better solution than to wait and see what implementation plan the federal government might come up with.”

Penzig said Westar is pleased that EPA has kept 2005 as its initial benchmarking point, because Westar has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 15 percent over the past 10 years.

“One of the things that was immediately notable with the release today was that the 2030 target for carbon reduction was higher than in the draft bill,” Penzig said. “So we’ll be examining the rule, and really looking at what it will take to meet the requirements, what impact that will have on our customers as far as cost and reliability, and whether or not we would be among those who have talked about challenging the rule.”

The Kansas Sierra Club says it believes the president and the EPA should have gone further in limiting power plant emissions.

“By the year 2030, we need to have an 80 percent reduction,” said Bill Griffith, energy chair of the Kansas Sierra Club. “It’s a good start, but there’s going to be a lot of work that needs to be done down the road.”

If Kansas allows the EPA to impose a federal plan rather than submitting a state plan, Griffith said it will make life more difficult for utilities that rely heavily on coal.

“The onus really will be on Westar at that point,” he said. “If the state leaves them out hanging and has the EPA come in and just do it by each particular smokestack, they’re going to be coming down on Westar fairly hard.”

Bryan Thompson is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.