Who has the final say in whether a new coal plant gets built? In Kansas, a serious debate is brewing over this very topic. Sunflower Electric Power Corp wants to build two 700-megawatt coal plants. Last year, the Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment, Rod Bremby, rejected the proposal because of “health risks associated with carbon dioxide emissions and global warming concerns.” But lawmakers in the Kansas house are trying to push the proposal through anyway. They voted 77-45 in a vote that took place yesterday, just shy of the two-thirds majority vote needed. Who is driving this push for coal? ENN reported that business groups and a Republican-led contingent of state legislators believe “the project would create jobs, provide badly needed energy for the area, and would keep electricity rates in check.” Is that so?
If I were a Kansas lawmaker, I would be wary of the claims made by the pro-coal contingency. For one, research has shown that industries that produce the most toxins (like coal-energy production) are not proportionate to economic activity. In fact, “National-level data show that roughly 60 percent of all U.S. toxic releases come from economic sectors that account for less than 5 percent of GNP and for less that 1.5% of the nation’s jobs.” (William Freudenburg, U.C. Santa Barbara) Moreover, the price of solar thermal, wind, and biomass has decreased in recent years, making these forms of energy more cost-effective. In addition, if a widespread program aimed at promoting energy-efficiency were promoted, energy demand can significantly decrease. Kansas might look to the successful programs that Southern California Edison has implemented, for example. Lastly, making the switch to cleaner forms of energy will necessarily generate a growth of “green collar” jobs.
The Kansas legislature is set to vote again on the bill in the coming months. We can expect some serious lobbying on both sides of the debate. As we know, there’s a lot of political power behind coal power.
The ENN article concluded with this statement: “It is very unfortunate that legislation like this was pushed through so quickly,” said Chris Cardinal, spokesman for Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy. “We need to sit down and have a proper discussion about our energy policy in Kansas, and not be engaging in all this gamesmanship and political maneuvering.”