Kansas Legislative News #6
March 19, 2012
Legislative Director & Lobbyist
Sierra Club – Kansas Chapter
22801 Golden Rd, Linwood KS 66052
Legislative Session Winds Down, Sustainability & Conservation Matters Prevail
The 2012 Legislative Session, which extends from Jan. 9th to Mar. 31st this year (not counting Veto Session), is coming down the homestretch. Fortunately, environmental protection was not on the chopping block, as many might have assumed. Actually, with the handful of bills passed that aim to preserve water supplies, 2012 may well be a sign Kansas is increasingly headed “green”. Perhaps that’s a strong conclusion (especially with the proposed reduction of 15 employees and $2.3 million to the environmental division of KDHE), but my experiences at the Statehouse have truly emboldened my perception of the powerful connection that Kansans have to ethics of stewardship and sustainability: two values that clearly demonstrate our commitment to our land, our children, and our future. Of course, translating the environmental sentiment into good policymaking is still a work in progress for our state officials. Here is a look at various environmental topics that have had the attention of our legislators this session as well as updates on recent bills.
Water conservation was a top concern for Kansan legislators this year. Following up on the advice of former Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty, Governor Brownback directed the legislature to pass important measures that would better manage water usage, especially in western Kansas, where severe droughts caused many farmers to lose crop yields totaling nearly $2 billion last year in lost revenue. Our legislators are finally matching our laws to the realization that our water is our most important resource; we cannot afford to be careless with water any longer, especially with severe droughts and continued climate change. Below are the measures our state leaders have developed.
SB 272 – Multi-year flex accounts for water rights and usage – passed unanimously and signed into law.
HB 2451 – Eliminating “Use it or Lose it” water policy – passed unanimously and signed into law.
HB 2516 – Establishing permanent water bank charter – on final action in the Senate.
HB 2517 – Making Water Transition Assistance Program permanent – on final action in Senate.
HB 2588 – Issuance of Revenue Bonds for Water Districts – pending approval by Governor.
HB 2685 – Creating Water Reservoir Improvement Districts – waiting to be passed by Senate.
SB 310- Establishing Local Enhanced Management Areas – passed 122-1 in House, waiting for concurrence by Senate & signature by Governor.
The Natural Gas Boom is happening across the country, but is currently just beginning to explode here (not literally.. yet) in Kansas. With the advancement of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling by the industry, natural gas companies are coming to Kansas seeking permits to drill and extract methane from up to a mile below the ground’s surface. Already, Kansas has had 105 horizontal drilling permit applications this year and that number is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years. Despite many academic studies, news accounts, and governmental agencies’ alerts to the troubles of the new energy rush, large oil and gas companies are doing everything they can to convince the public and our state officials that this practice is in no way harmful. Our conservative nature in Kansas should help us in realizing that we should be smart and better safe-than-sorry when it comes to “fracking”. We can certainly learn from the water contamination problems from horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing already seen in Pennsylvania and Colorado. We should be smart about the fact that fracking sites release a heavy amount of methane into the air, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Kansas can learn from the earthquake problems associated with deep injection wells (which are used to dispose of fracking fluids) as seen recently in Ohio or Arkansas. Hydraulic Fracturing, in its early design, actually started in Kansas in 1947. That said, because Kansas is the oldest state when it comes to fracking, we ought to be the wisest too! Thankfully, our state legislators are becoming more aware of the hazards with fracking. Here is what has been happening with the fracking issue in Kansas.
SB 375 – Land-spreading of fracking solids – narrowly failed in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee last Friday. The bill had concerns from farmers and landowners that spreading sludge produced by horizontal drillers seeking gas and oil could be detrimental to crop growth, property value, and people’s health and environment. Exploring other best-practices concerning fracking waste seemed to be the overall objective of the committee.
State leaders know that energy is a very important issue affecting our state right now. Conflicted by a strong presence of traditional energy led by oil and gas industry, and new eco-friendly, energy industry of wind development, Kansas is being pulled from both sides of the energy industry. Case in point is last week’s debate on Kansas’s renewable energy standards formed in 2009. The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) calls for 20% required renewable energy production by 2020. The standards were developed to balance our energy needs with concerns for future energy demand, price control, and environmental needs. An amendment proposed by Rep. Forrest Knox came to discussion this week in House Energy and Utilities to whether the RPS should continue as scheduled if Holcomb II is still not constructed.
HB 2446 – Energy Storage bill concerning RPS with amendment attaching Holcomb II – language on RPS freeze was struck, bill was subsequently tabled.
HB 2708 – Renewable Energy & Energy Storage – (the twin bill of 2446 without the RPS freeze) in Senate Utilities Committee waiting for action.
Recent discussion surrounds authority over land rights, specifically concerning private property. Here is a glimpse of the different issues that have significant consequences for governance over property and sustainable development.
HB 2587 – Limiting the Duration of Conservation Easements – Heard by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. The Conservative front group, Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by Tea Party backers, is aiming to reduce the right of landowners to safeguard their land in perpetuity, meaning it be hands-off from development forever in the landowner’s deed. In opposition of the bill are the Army Corps of Engineers, Nature Conservancy, land trusts, and Governor’s military advisory council.
HB 2662 – Limiting County Authority over Landfill Governance - The Local Government Subcommittee decided to not proceed with the original language of the bill, instead opting for more studies on intercounty relations regarding landfills and waste disposal companies.
HCR 6018 – Addressing United Nations Agenda 21 - Rep. Dennis Hedke of Wichita and Rep. Forrest Knox of Altoona backed a resolution in front of the House Energy and Utilities Committee on Friday to oppose a United Nations agenda item that they said represented a “socialist and communist” plan that would allow the federal government to take away private lands from Americans. The extreme language was called into question by Rep. Mike Slattery of Mission, who acknowledged that the UN agenda was legally non-binding as well as asked for specific confirmation of “socialist” policy actions.
Thank our Representatives for their Commitment to Defending our Environment in Kansas
Because environmental matters prevailed this year, please join the Kansas Sierra Club in issuing gratitude to our legislators for protecting our natural world. Certainly there is much room for improvement, but by contacting your state representatives and expressing your advocacy for the environment, you are giving our elected officials a friendly push in the right direction. To find out who your representatives are, check out http://www.ipsr.ku.edu/ksdata/vote/. Please reach out to me too, as I would like to hear your thoughts and concerns. Thank you for being a member of Kansas Sierra Club and caring for your planet!
Kansas Sierra Club Legislative Director & Lobbyist