The Kansas Corporation Commission set up the framework Thursday to start bringing the state into compliance with new federal rules to limit carbon pollution from power plants.
Commissioners opened a general investigation into what the state will have to do to meet standards set out in the federal Clean Power Plan and at the same time comply with House Bill 2233, a Kansas state law that requires the commission to study alternatives and report back on the cheapest way to comply while still maintaining reliable power supplies.
Complying with the rules is likely to result in higher power bills because the bulk of the electricity that Kansans use is generated from coal. Utilities will likely have to rely more on cleaner, but higher-cost sources of power, especially natural gas.
The national rules are designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fixed pollution sources. According to the prevailing science, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels are driving destructive climate changes.
Westar Energy, Kansas’ dominant utility, was surprised by the amount of carbon reduction the state will have to make, said company spokeswoman Gina Penzig.
“In August, when the final rule was passed, Kansas’ reduction for carbon was much larger than what we had expected based on the (preliminary) draft rule,” Penzig said.
The draft rule projected about a 25 percent carbon emission decrease for Kansas. The final rule calls for 40 percent, Penzig said.
Federal policy should be about the American family, not worshipping a radical environmental agenda.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita
Coincidentally, the House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill and two resolutions aimed at getting rid of the Clean Power Plan, which was formulated by the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama.
In a statement, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, panned the plan and the president, who was in Paris this week lending his support to a 196-nation climate-change summit meeting.
“While President Obama is in Paris pushing his damaging climate change agenda, Congress is busy working on legislation that capitalizes on the abundance of reliable and affordable energy that America needs to power our economy,” Pompeo said. “Federal policy should be about the American family, not worshipping a radical environmental agenda. But unfortunately, the Obama administration is pushing its so-called Clean Power Plan that would drive up electricity costs for Kansans and people across this country without providing any measurable environmental benefit.”
In 2013, 33 million metric tons of carbon pollution were emitted from power plants in Kansas — equal to the yearly pollution from almost 7 million cars.
White House position paper
The White House claims the Clean Power Plan benefits will outweigh the immediate costs for Kansas.
“In 2013, 33 million metric tons of carbon pollution were emitted from power plants in Kansas – equal to the yearly pollution from almost 7 million cars,” a White House paper said. “In addition to reducing a portion of this carbon pollution, EPA’s guidelines will also cut other forms of air pollution like soot and smog. Overall, these reductions will provide significant health benefits.”
In addition, cutting carbon emissions will spur more investment in wind power and help agriculture in Kansas by moderating crop-damaging storms and reducing other negative effects from climate change, the paper said.
Nationally, the EPA projects that cleaner air resulting from the plan will prevent as many as 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 missed work and school days a year.
Under Thursday’s order, the KCC and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will join forces to try to come up with a state plan for carbon reduction that complies with the federal rules but takes local conditions into account.
KDHE will be responsible for establishing emissions targets, and the KCC will take the lead in formulating the least-expensive plan to meet them, the order said.
“To ensure an organized procedure that is accessible both to the public and parties, the commission will hold educational sessions, convene legislative-style hearings, and allow the public and parties to submit comments,” the order said.
While creating a state carbon-reduction plan is optional, and some conservative lawmakers are opposed to doing it on ideological grounds, Westar is urging the Legislature to move forward.
If the state doesn’t act, the federal government could step in and implement a plan that would likely be more difficult to achieve, Penzig said.