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Kansas Committee’s First Meeting Dominated By Criticism Of EPA Climate Change Rule

Andy Marso
Heartland Health Monitor

A Kansas committee formed to vet a federally mandated plan to cut carbon emissions met for the first time Thursday in a hearing dominated by criticism of the plan.

Rep. Dennis Hedke, chairman of the Clean Power Plan Implementation Study Committee, blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for putting forth the rule, which is intended to prevent climate change.

“They have overstepped so many bounds it’s just almost unconscionable,” Hedke said.

The United Nations and other international groups have urged countries to try to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels. Most climate scientists agree the carbon emissions are contributing to global climate change and sea level rise.  

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expectserious public health effectsas Earth’s climate changes, including expansion of vector-borne disease and disruption of the water and food supply.

The Clean Power Plan is a set of regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that require states to meet certain carbon reduction goals within their electrical grids by 2030.

According to the EPA, Kansas was given “one of the least stringent state goals” in the country.

President Obama and EPA officials say the carbon reduction plan is key to reducing the U.S. role in climate change.

Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders have decried the regulations, saying they violate states’ rights and will lead to big utility cost increases for businesses and individuals.

They passed a bill instructing the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to move forward in drafting a plan to meet the 2030 mandate, because if the state does not form its own plan, the EPA will impose one on it.

But the legislation passed last session stipulates that any KDHE plan must be vetted by the Kansas attorney general to ensure it doesn’t undermine a lawsuit Kansas and 14 other states have filed against the EPA.

Legal fight pending

The bill also formed the 11-member committee to provide legislative oversight of any plan KDHE puts forth.

The agenda for Thursday’s committee meeting included presentations from utility company representatives, state regulators and an attorney from Baker Botts, which bills itself as “one of the leading oil and gas firms in the world."

Tom Gross, the leader of KDHE’s air quality monitoring program, and Jeff Chanay, the deputy attorney general working on the lawsuit, both said the EPA’s emission reduction targets would be impossible to reach.

“There is just no way possible to comply with these implementation dates," Chanay said.

Hedke said Chanay’s assessment of the federal government’s “overreach and misapplication of the law” was spot on and urged him to litigate vigorously.

“Keep it up,” Hedke said. “Keep the pressure on.”

The Clean Power Plan committee is made up of nine Republicans and two Democrats, all of them members of the House Energy and Environment Committee or Senate Utilities Committee. The two Republican chairmen of those committees, Hedke and Sen. Rob Olson, both are on record saying they do not believe humans are causing climate change. Hedke is a geophysicist who contracts with oil and natural gas companies.

Religious leaders press for action

The committee’s inaugural gathering came days after Pope Francis urged Americans to make fighting climate change a priority during his visit to the East Coast. The Pope called on Congress and other Americans to preserve creation and protect poor nations that will be least able to cope with a changing climate.

Rep. Annie Kuether, one of the two Democrats on the committee, said she did not believe the Pope’s comments during his U.S. visit would change the discussion in Kansas, where fighting climate change is a low priority.

Kuether said she thought she and the committee’s other Democrat, Sen. Marci Francisco of Lawrence, were probably the only members who believe humans are causing climate change.

“I want to ask everybody if they’re Catholics,” Kuether said. “Your Pope is espousing that we need to pay attention to climate change. I think he has a great message.”

Sen. Mike Petersen, a Republican from Wichita who sits on the committee, expressed skepticism of human-caused climate change, saying “climate change has been in cycles, that’s kind of still up in the air whether how much we can contribute.”

Petersen said some initial estimates from the Kansas regional electricity pool showed a 40 percent increase in electricity costs if the state were to comply with the federal emissions reduction plan.

“I think most members of this committee are wanting us to be good stewards of our atmosphere,” he said. “We all live here. But we’re looking at the data and trying to get the cost and how this is going to affect our consumers, particularly the poor.”

Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, a group of religious leaders who lobby for policies to fight climate change, has planned a vigil Sunday afternoon in Overland Park to raise awareness about the issue.

The vigil coincides with the Catholic Feast of St. Francis and the Jewish holiday Sukkot and will feature clergy representing Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

“Our many faiths call us to be responsible stewards of creation and to stand in protection of the poorest and most vulnerable humans, ecosystems and species that will be most harmed by climate change,” said Moti Rieber, a rabbi who serves as the group’s director.

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

Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.
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