Tag Archives: Rod Bremby

KDHE, Sunflower Electric, Earthjustice, Center for Climate Strategies: different peas in the same pod

Evidence that a business seeking regulatory approval of its project enjoyed an apparently close relationship with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment should not be surprising.

Reporting in the Kansas City Star leads with “Hundreds of emails document that officials of a Kansas power plant enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Kansas regulators who issued them a building permit in December.” (Kansas agency, utility worked closely on permit for plant)

A press release from Earthjustice, the legal advocacy arm of the Sierra Club, proclaimed “A new report reveals Sunflower Electric (Sunflower) enjoyed a cozy relationship with Kansas regulators during the permitting process for the highly controversial coal-fired power plant Sunflower seeks to build in Holcomb.”

This incident — the details are not important for understanding the broad lesson — may be looked on as an example of regulatory capture. As defined in Wikipedia, “regulatory capture occurs when a state regulatory agency created to act in the public interest instead advances the commercial or special interests that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.”

In more detail, the Wikipedia article explains: “For public choice theorists, regulatory capture occurs because groups or individuals with a high-stakes interest in the outcome of policy or regulatory decisions can be expected to focus their resources and energies in attempting to gain the policy outcomes they prefer, while members of the public, each with only a tiny individual stake in the outcome, will ignore it altogether. Regulatory capture refers to when this imbalance of focused resources devoted to a particular policy outcome is successful at ‘capturing’ influence with the staff or commission members of the regulatory agency, so that the preferred policy outcomes of the special interest are implemented.”

Regulatory capture — or at least the heavy-handed attempt by special interest groups to influence public policy to fit their interests — is a non-partisan sport. We shouldn’t be surprised to see this form of government failure taking place at all times, no matter which party or politicians are in power.

As an example on point, the same type of activity happened during the administration of former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius regarding the same electric plant that is the focus of controversy today. Her regulator, former KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby, denied the permit for the plant based on its carbon dioxide emissions, the first time that had been done in the United States.

Radical environmentalists rejoiced. Sebelius was invited to speak at an Earthjustice conference held in Denver in June, 2008. Here are a portion of her written remarks, as supplied to me at that time by her press office, thanking Earthjustice for all it had done in Kansas to help Sebelius and mold her regulatory regime:

When Big Coal pumped their money and politics into Kansas, EarthJustice was there to fight back:

  • Provided litigation and public support
  • Helped shape the media messaging and outreach
  • Rallied supporters and engaged the public to get involved

It was a victory for all of us and I appreciate their help.

About that time Sebelius established the Kansas Energy and Environmental Policy Advisory Group, or KEEP. The activities of this group were managed — at no cost to the state — by the Center for Climate Strategies, a group that expressly advocates for energy policies and regulations based on an extremist view of climate science.

The invasion of Kansas — at least the Sebelius administration — by Earthjustice and Center for Climate Studies proves the point: Regulatory capture is a non-partisan opportunity.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday November 5, 2010

Political attacks on tap at Pachyderm. Wichita State University political science professor Mel Kahn will be the presenter at today’s (November 5) meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. The always-interesting professor will speak on the topic “Do Political Attacks Help or Harm our Republic?” This seems like a timely topic given the recent general and primary elections. The public is welcome at Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Hold the celebration “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds, in fact, that 59% of Likely U.S. Voters think it is at least somewhat likely that most voters will be disappointed with Republicans in Congress before the next national elections. That includes 38% who say it is Very Likely.” More at Most Voters Think House GOP Likely To Disappoint By 2012. Is this evidence of a deeply-ingrained cynicism by American voters? I hope not — but I can’t blame people for thinking so.

We understand, that’s why we resist. The incredibly insightful George Will discusses in the Washington Post what he calls the “nationwide recoil against Barack Obama’s idea of unlimited government” and explains why progressives (the people who used to be called liberals) are so confused and unable to accept the political reality of the day: “The progressive agenda is actually legitimated by the incomprehension and anger it elicits: If the people do not resent and resist what is being done on their behalf, what is being done is not properly ambitious. If it is comprehensible to its intended beneficiaries, it is the work of insufficiently advanced thinkers.” I added the emphasis to make sure we grasp the essence of Will’s description of the progressive mindset: that we regular people are just not capable of understanding what is in our own best interests. That is the working belief of Obama and the progressives. As an aside, it’s amazing the the Post can have a columnist as good as Will and as corrupt as Dana Milbank at the same time.

Obama really doesn’t get it. In a preview of a 60 Minutes interview to be broadcast on Sunday, CBS News reports: “After a [sic] suffering a ‘shellacking’ in the midterm elections, President Obama acknowledges what many have seen as his chief weakness — failing to sell the importance of several legislative milestones to the American people. … ‘Making an argument that people can understand,’ Mr. Obama continued, ‘I think that we haven’t always been successful at that.'” In other words, it’s a marketing problem for Obama. Others have said the same. Recently Jonathan Alter wrote “It’s a sign of how poorly liberals market themselves and their ideas that the word ‘liberal’ is still in disrepute despite the election of the most genuinely liberal president that the political culture of this country will probably allow.” But I think that people understand perfectly well the liberal or progressive agenda — if not at a deeply intellectual level than by instinct — and I agree with George Will: “Is political power — are government commands and controls — superseding and suffocating the creativity of a market society’s spontaneous order? On Tuesday, a rational and alarmed American majority said ‘yes.'”

Kansas Republicans a spry bunch. After January, ten of the 12 Kansas statewide or federal offices will be held by people under the age of 55. Exceptions are Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger and Senator Pat Roberts. Roberts has indicated he’ll run again in 2014.

Kansas Senate after the election. The Kansas Senate, unlike the House, was not up for election this year, although there were two special elections. In one, the appointed incumbent was elected, and in another, a replacement for Jim Barnett was selected. While the composition of the Senate remains 31 Republicans and nine Democrats, not all the Republicans are conservatives. Quite a few — including the Senate leadership and two Wichita-area members — have voting records indistinguishable from many Democrats. A good guess at the number of conservative-voting senators is 17, short of a majority. Upcoming: There will be at least three new senators selected. In two cases — to replace Tim Huelskamp and Jeff Colyer — the likely replacements will be conservative, as are the two resigning members. In the third case, to replace majority leader Derek Schmidt, it is likely that the replacement will be more fiscally conservative, although Schmidt did vote against the big-spending budget and sales tax increase this year. With a conservative governor taking office and the House controlled by conservatives, might a few senators decide to adopt a more conservative view? Those left-leaning members who are looking to run for reelection in 2012 have a decision to make.

Kansas City Star on Parkinson’s pollution. The Kansas City Star laments outgoing Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson‘s decision to fire Kansas Department of Health and Environment chief Rod Bremby. The issue is Parkinson’s desire to get a coal-fired electricity plant in Kansas permitted before new rules come into effect. There are several problems with the Star’s editorial. First, cabinet secretaries like Bremby serve at the pleasure of the executive. If they don’t do what the boss wants, they’re gone. Second, the Star refers to the “tons of new pollution” that will “drift eastward across Kansas.” The editorialist should remember that Bremby denied the permit for the plant based on its carbon dioxide emissions, not for emissions of actual pollutants like sulfur dioxide. To the extent that carbon dioxide is harmful, it is because of its (alleged) impact on global warming, and that impact is disputed. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant in the sense that it is poisonous or harmful to those who breath it, as it is naturally abundant in the atmosphere. By the way, Bremby’s decision to deny the permit was entirely political, as he was apparently willing to approve a permit for an oil refinery that would emit 17 million tons of carbon a year, when he denied the power plant solely because of its emissions of 11 million tons. See Rod Bremby’s action drove away the refinery.

Earthjustice meddles in Kansas again

The radical environmentalist group Earthjustice is again meddling in Kansas energy policy. They’ve sent a “warning letter” to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. You can read it at Proposed Kansas Coal Plant Draws Warning Letter.

Earthjustice opposes the building of a coal-fired power plant in Kansas. Our former governor Kathleen Sebelius, because she opposed the plant, was a darling of Earthjustice. See Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius at Earthjustice.

Earthjustice is simply misinformed in many ways. For example, the press release states: “The truth is building a new, dirty coal plant really only serves the interest of a few while overlooking the virtually free wind energy resources of Western Kansas.”

Consider that the “virtually free” wind energy is supported by a federal subsidy with each spin of the turbine blades.

Consider that Westar’s investment in wind power plus the natural gas plants necessary to back up the unreliable wind has caused the utility to ask for several rate increases in the past few years.

What was that about “virtually free” again? The inexpensive energy a coal plant would produce is a benefit to all Kansans, especially low-income Kansans, as they can least afford the expensive energy produced by alternative sources.

Then, the press release states “The Holcomb coal plant will send most of its power out of state while leaving pollution all over Kansas.”

The writer doesn’t state specifically what type of pollution she means. But the plant was not refused a permit because of what we traditionally consider pollution: sulfur dioxide, mercury, etc. That’s because coal plants now are quite clean with regard to these pollutants.

So that leaves carbon dioxide as the “pollutant” in question. Which, of course, isn’t a pollutant at all. And if it’s a problem, it’s a problem on a global scale, not just “all over Kansas.”

Hopefully our governor will disregard the call of the leftists at Earthjustice and let Kansas get on with its business.

Drinkwine editorial on Kansas carbon emissions overlooks evidence

Frank Drinkwine of the Kansas Sierra Club has an editorial in today’s Wichita Eagle that ignores some important facts. (Frank Drinkwine: Bremby has and needs authority to protect air, February 5, 2009 Wichita Eagle.)

Setting aside for the moment the climate change hysteria that Drinkwine relies on (and we really shouldn’t set that aside), he’s wrong when he ascribes pure motives to Red Bremby, Kansas Health and Environment Secretary. It’s apparent that when Bremby denied the permit for the expansion of the Holcomb station power plant his motivation was political.

In February 2008, according to Associated Press reporting, Rod Bremby was apparently willing to approve a permit for a Hyperion oil refinery that would emit 17 million tons of carbon a year, when he denied the Holcomb Station power plan expansion solely because of its emissions of 11 million tons. (See Oil refiner wary of coming to Kansas, also Rod Bremby’s Action Drove Away the Refinery.)

Drinkwine writes “No other projects have been presented to Bremby for permitting that even remotely rival the scale of the Holcomb project.” I believe this is true, but a story from last year in the Topeka Capital-Journal reports “Bremby wrote he couldn’t commit to issuing the permit but said if Hyperion submitted the same application as they did in South Dakota, there “should not be a problem with issuance.'” Remember that this is for a plant that would emit 17 million tons of carbon per year, as compared to Holcomb’s 11 million tons.

Why would he be willing to approve 17 million tons of carbon emissions, but not 11 million tons? It’s a good question. Perhaps oil refineries don’t carry the stigma of coal. Perhaps Bremby was just doing the bidding of our governor as she prepared to build her green credentials as she entered the national stage.

Another Misleading Question by GPACE

Yesterday we saw how the website of the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy contains a list of ten questions for Sunflower supporters. My post GPACE “Sunflower” Questions Misleading showed how these questions are designed to influence public opinion in a very misleading manner.

One of the ways some of the questions are misleading is that they’re based on a false premise (or two). Here’s question number eight, which provides another example: “How is it a good idea for the part-time, partisan Kansas Legislature to be responsible for thousands of annual permit requests and for enforcing compliance, in addition to other priorities and constitutional duties?”

This question is based on this premise: that because a majority of Kansas legislators want to overrule one decision made by Rod Bremby, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the legislature wants to be responsible for all decisions made by KDHE.

That’s quite a leap of logic, and one unsupported by any public statement by any member of the legislature that I’ve seen. This question is obviously designed to evoke a specific response unsupported by facts. It’s misleading.

Here’s something else: The use of the word partisan in describing the legislature. This is designed to convince people that the action taken by the legislature was tainted because it was based on political considerations, rather than other considerations of a higher order such as, say, scientific evidence.

The reality is that the Sunflower electrical plant permit was approved by the professional staff of KDHE. It was KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby, a political appointee of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who decided to overrule his staff and deny the permit. That sounds like partisan action to me.

GPACE’s website states “GPACE seeks to correct an imbalance in the information citizens and their elected representatives have received regarding the critical and complex energy policy decisions facing our state.” From what we’ve seen so far, GPACE’s misleading and loaded questions contribute to misinformation rather than balance.

Untruths about carbon and its regulation at the Wichita Eagle

The Wichita Eagle’s recent editorial by Rhonda Holman takes a few Kansas legislators to task for statements regarding regulatory uncertainly in Kansas (No ‘regulatory uncertainty’ in Kansas, October 28, 2008 Wichita Eagle). She claims their statements “don’t reflect reality” and that their untruths are harming Kansas’ ability to bring in business.

I want to remind Ms. Holman of reporting in the Topeka Capital-Journal from earlier this year which investigated some of the issues surrounding the denial of the permit for the expansion of Holcomb Station. As reported in my post Rod Bremby’s Action Drove Away the Refinery, the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment absolutely created a very confusing situation. He denied a plant solely for its level of carbon emissions, and then said that a proposed plant that emits even more carbon would not be a problem.

Who would trust a public official who speaks like that?

Besides this, Ms. Holman says the Holcomb plant is bad for Kansas, as it exports power “while leaving Kansas with 100 percent of the carbon dioxide.” I know of no authority — not even Al Gore — that believes that carbon dioxide pollution is a problem in the local vicinity of a power plant. To the extent that carbon emissions are a problem — and that’s a mighty big “if” — it’s a problem on a global scale. Why else would climate change alarmists be concerned about carbon emissions from power plants in China?

Kansas environmental policy is full of uncertainty

In a January 17, 2008 Wichita Eagle editorial, Nancy Jackson of the Climate and Energy Project of the Land Institute claims that Roderick L. Bremby, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, did not create regulatory uncertainty when he denied the permit for the expansion of a coal-fired power plant in Kansas.

A dubious claim made in this editorial is how “Neither Bremby nor Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is ‘out front’ on this issue [carbon emissions].” Jackson claims that Bremby was just following an inevitable trend towards more regulation of carbon emissions. But this is in direct opposition to news reports at the time. The Washington Post, for example, reported “The Kansas Department of Health and Environment yesterday became the first government agency in the United States to cite carbon dioxide emissions as the reason for rejecting an air permit for a proposed coal-fired electricity generating plant, saying that the greenhouse gas threatens public health and the environment.” (Power Plant Rejected Over Carbon Dioxide For First Time)

Being the first to do something creates uncertainty, especially when the professional staff of KDHE approved the permit. The decision must have been made by just one person — or maybe two, as the level of involvement of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius in the decision is not known.

But what discredits Ms. Jackson most is something she couldn’t have known when she wrote this editorial. In February, according to Associated Press reporting, Rod Bremby was apparently willing to approve a permit for an oil refinery that would emit 17 million tons of carbon a year, when he denied the power plant solely because of its emissions of 11 million tons. (See Oil refiner wary of coming to Kansas, also Rod Bremby’s Action Drove Away the Refinery.)

If this isn’t regulatory uncertainty, I don’t know what is.

Earthjustice in Kansas: The Press Release

I’ve recently learned that the radical environmentalist group Earthjustice played a role in the rejection of a coal-fired power plant in Kansas. I didn’t learn that from any Kansas news source, but only from Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, and only then long after the permit for the plant was denied. See Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius at Earthjustice.

Now I see Earthjustice’s press release Kansas Rejects Massive Sunflower Coal-Fired Power Plant.

What did Earthjustice do in Kansas, and how did they do it? These are things Kansans need to know. To that end, I’ve filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act asking for records of the correspondence between the governor’s office and Earthjustice. Hopefully the governor’s office will respond to this request in a way that will let Kansans have access to information they have the right to know.

Rod Bremby’s Action Drove Away the Refinery

In The Wichita Eagle (Roderick L. Bremby: Neufeld Disregards Truth About Air Permits, May 17, 2008) the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment takes issue with Kansas House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, a Republican from Ingalls. The point of contention is that Neufeld claims that if not for Bremby, Kansas might have landed a large oil refinery. Bremby disagrees with Neufeld’s assertion that Bremby’s actions have created “regulatory uncertainty” in Kansas.

There’s some uncertainty as to whether Kansas was really in the running for the oil refinery, or if we were just a fallback state.

There’s also controversy over whether the denial of the permit for a coal-fired power plant creates regulatory uncertainty.

But there can be no uncertainty over this: Secretary Bremby denied the Holcomb station permit because of its carbon dioxide emissions of 11 million tons per year. The oil refinery, according to Topeka Capital-Journal reporting based on its South Dakota application, will emit 17 million tons per year. (Hyperion refinery: possibility or politics? May 18, 2008)

So if a permit was denied because a plant would emit 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, what chance would a plant emitting 17 million tons (55% more) have of obtaining a permit? I would say it is quite certain the permit would not be approved.

But reporting from The Topeka Capital-Journal raises questions about Secretary Bremby and his actions that absolutely do contribute to regulatory uncertainty:

Phillips wrote to Kansas commerce secretary David Kerr on Jan. 22 asking for a commitment to approve the air-quality permit if Hyperion applied in Kansas. Bremby replied Feb. 11, “Kansas remains open for business.”

Bremby wrote he couldn’t commit to issuing the permit but said if Hyperion submitted the same application as they did in South Dakota, there “should not be a problem with issuance.”

The South Dakota application mentions the 17 million tons of carbon dioxide, which, if we believe the Secretary, would not be an obstacle to obtaining a permit. If so, why couldn’t the Holcomb plant, with its lesser carbon dioxide emissions, be approved?

Secretary Bremby has some explaining to do.

Related: The Kansas Meadowlark sees things that everyone else overlooks: Will Gov. Sebelius call for removal of carbon dioxide pollutants from the Great Seal of the State of Kansas?