TOPEKA — Federal officials told Kansas legislators Thursday that the state will be expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions as it considers air quality permits for power plants, large factories and oil refineries. If it refuses, the Environmental Protection Agency could step in.
Regional EPA Administrator Karl Brooks said the state must revise its permitting program to cover manmade greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for global climate change. And Mark Smith, the regional office's air permitting and compliance chief, said the EPA could impose changes if the state doesn't comply.
They made the statements during a meeting of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Energy and Environmental Policy. While Brooks defended the new rules, taking effect Jan. 2, as "commonsense" standards for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, lawmakers vented their frustration about their inability to prevent the upcoming changes.
"I don't like it," Rep. Carl Dean Holmes, R-Liberal, said during a break in the committee's meeting. "We're going to be forcing our manufacturing — what we've got left in this country — overseas."
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The committee is gathering information about the EPA's plans — and most members oppose the regulations. Members said the EPA is moving too quickly and predicted, like many critics, that the new greenhouse gas regulations will hurt the economy by increasing energy costs.
Brooks, whose region covers Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, said the EPA is delaying rules for most businesses for six years to give Congress a chance to weigh in.
He told the committee he welcomes a vigorous debate over the EPA's actions but said the agency is responding to federal court rulings, citing a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under federal law.
The EPA has told Kansas to submit a plan for revising its air permitting program by the end of the year, and state officials expect to have it ready by Dec. 1.
"Not everybody is going to send our agency a Christmas card," Brooks said, acknowledging the debate. "This is a commonsense approach that EPA is following. It targets the largest industrial sources, and it shields millions of businesses that make up the majority of the U.S. economy."
The committee's information-gathering comes as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is considering an air-quality permit for Sunflower Electric Power Corp. for a new coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas.
Health department officials told the committee that they hope to have a decision on the permit by year's end, but agency spokeswoman Kristi Pankratz said such a schedule is "very ambitious." If the process takes longer, the new federal greenhouse gas rules would come into play.
The rules would apply to any new plant emitting 100,000 or more tons of greenhouse gases a year and would require plants to use the best available technology to control emissions. Major Kansas utilities questioned whether any technology will be available — the EPA contends it will — and Holmes complained utilities like Sunflower face a "rolling" standard.
"It appears to me that it's an attempt to increase the cost of energy," said Holmes, who's long been influential in legislative debates over energy policy.
But Brooks told Holmes that President Obama, a Democrat, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson "are as dedicated to growing the American economy as anybody who's ever held those positions."
"Our belief is that by making these kinds of rules now, we actually are saving costs in the future," he said. "When we take care of people's health and when we take care of the natural resources on which all our wealth depends, everybody benefits."