Schmidt objects to federal energy proposal. But Kansas doesn’t have its own plan.

The bill, offered by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, has since been withdrawn

By: - October 7, 2022 9:25 am
solar panels

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and fellow Republican attorneys general objected to a federal proposal meant to speed up construction of both renewable and fossil fuel-based sources of energy. (Evergy)

A stalled federal proposal meant to speed up efforts to site transmission and energy projects amounted to a takeover of grid planning, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and other Republican attorneys general wrote to U.S. Senate leaders last week.

But Kansas has no statewide energy plan. It’s one of just seven states without one, according to the National Association of State Energy Officials. A state energy plan, one clean energy group in Kansas said, might help the state get more federal money for renewable projects.

“One of the reasons we felt it was important to have a state energy office or state energy plan was so that we could take advantage of and leverage additional funding … having a plan always makes it easier to access those additional federal dollars,” said Dorothy Barnett, executive director of the Climate and Energy Project.

The Kansas Corporation Commission, which houses the state’s energy office, said in a statement that it meets federal requirements for funds and is not aware of requirements that it have a state energy plan to receive them.

“As a regulatory agency, the KCC has enjoyed success managing the (state energy program),” said the agency’s spokeswoman, Linda Berry, “but has always maintained that the development of a state energy plan is more appropriately addressed by the governor’s office and the Kansas Legislature.”

Barnett said other states’ energy plans include information about the state’s energy landscape, future plans, and federal resources and opportunities.

Ashok Gupta, an energy economist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said a plan would be helpful, but not the most important task for a state. 

“It’s more important to get some agreement on the direction we want to go in and execute on those two or three very specific things,” he said.

The federal proposal, which Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, offered, was attached to a Congressional budget bill. Manchin withdrew it later the same day the attorneys general sent their letter arguing it was unconstitutional. It was meant to benefit both renewable and fossil fuel projects but was criticized by Senate Republicans as well as some progressive Democrats

According to the Washington Post, Manchin’s proposal could streamline construction of energy infrastructure — both renewables and fossil fuel projects — by setting time limits on project reviews and speeding up government approvals. It would also clear the way for a gas pipeline in Manchin’s home state. 

Right now, power over energy planning happens at both the state and federal levels, but Schmidt and 16 other attorneys general argue Manchin’s plan would tip the scales toward too much federal power. 

They wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, that the provisions would allow federal agencies to order the construction of energy facilities deemed to be in the national interest. They also objected to the ability of private companies to use eminent domain on state land. 

“Imagine our state forests taken over by transmission lines so coastal elites can sleep better at night knowing their electric vehicles and air conditioning are being powered by wind from the Midwest, purchased through the sacrifice of American energy independence,” they wrote.

Schmidt’s office did not return an email asking follow-up questions. 

Barnett said some provisions of the bill that might have made it easier to build wind and solar farms, and transmission lines would help “decarbonize” the economy. But the bill may have also been a boon to Kansas’ oil and gas industry.

“And so I actually think the best thing is that it is off the table for now,” she said.

Schmidt and other Republicans had unlikely allies in opposing Manchin’s bill: leading environmental groups.

Both the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council came out against the legislation. The Sierra Club said in a statement that the bill “isn’t needed to build more clean energy.”

“Instead, it would allow fossil fuel companies to steamroll communities and fast-track their polluting projects, locking in more oil and gas development at a time when we must be doing the opposite in order to avert the worst of the climate crisis,” said Sierra Club deputy legislative director Mahyar Sorour.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.