The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

State News

April 27, 2008

Kansas: Debate over coal plants casts wide net

The Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. — A bill sought by the Department of Agriculture to end small headaches in regulating grocery stores and vending machines didn’t get much attention as it slipped quietly through the Legislature this year.

But House Speaker Melvin Neufeld and his staff noticed, particularly one section several pages into the measure. It said the secretary of agriculture couldn’t impose regulations more stringent than those imposed by the federal government, unless legislators approved.

To them, the section had a familiar ring. Something similar for the secretary of health and environment had been included in two bills Gov. Kathleen Sebelius had vetoed during the biggest legislative debate of the year.

Those bills allow two coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas, which Neufeld, an Ingalls Republican, strongly supports. Sebelius has criticized provisions restricting the secretary of health and environment’s power, saying they’re unacceptable to her.

So why, Neufeld wonders, did Sebelius sign a bill containing a similar restriction on the secretary of agriculture? He believes she’s being inconsistent, something her staff disputes.

The contentious debate over coal-fired plants casts a huge shadow. When people have points to make, public opinion to shape and votes to change, seemingly insignificant things like the agriculture bill become relevant.

And this year, the legislative session seems to be all about whether the two coal plants get built.

“You see other legislatures in coal mining states spend a lot of time on coal, but nothing like this, not day in, day out,” said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s national anti-coal campaign.

Legislators return Wednesday from their annual spring break to wrap up their business for the year. Responding to Sebelius’ vetoes tops the agenda for Republican leaders.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat who opposes the coal-plant bills, contends Neufeld is holding other issues hostage. Neufeld denies it.

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