The Wichita Eagle, Dec. 8
GOP divided on RES
Kansas' ruling GOP majority is as unified as it is conservative on many issues. But a decision looms about renewable energy standards in which geography and business interests could matter as much as free-market ideology. The stakes include Kansas' status as a wind-energy leader.
As part of a deal to allow a still-unbuilt coal-fired power plant near Holcomb, the 2009 Legislature passed the renewable energy standards, which mandate that major electric utility companies in Kansas generate or buy an increasing amount of energy from renewable sources. The law called for their renewable generation capacity to be 10 percent by 2010, 15 percent by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020.
Opponents unsuccessfully tried to weaken the standards last spring. Last month House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, told the Wichita Pachyderm Club that the RES law "is costing the utility ratepayers" and he expects the 2014 Legislature to repeal it.
Not coincidentally - as Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, are both on the board of the American Legislative Exchange Council - the Koch-backed ALEC's agenda for 2014 reportedly includes trying to roll back such green-energy mandates in the 30 states that have them. Similarly, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, has advocated for letting the federal wind-energy production tax credit expire at the end of the year.
But the RES and federal tax credit have been credited with helping Kansas draw $3 billion in wind-power investment in 2011 and 2012, as Kansas landowners received an estimated $273 million from leasing their land for turbines.
And repeal of the RES may not be a done deal in Topeka, given the support for such pro-wind policies among Republicans in the state. Not only did Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran support extending the wind tax credit for the current year, but Gov. Sam Brownback is part of the bipartisan Governors' Wind Energy Coalition. Brownback signed its Nov. 6 letter urging congressional leaders to pass a multiyear extension of the federal credit. The coalition's "Renewable Electricity Standards: State Success Stories" earlier this year also touted Kansas utilities' "reported rate increases of less than 1.7 percent to cover required renewable energy investments in 2012 and 2013" and concluded: "Renewable energy standards deliver jobs and economic benefits to rural areas and cities alike, all while insulating consumers from fuel price risks and building America's global competitiveness in a growing market for new technology."
Kansans with a stake in this RES debate, and that's everybody who uses energy, will need to watch closely and be heard.
The Hutchinson News, Dec. 8
Point of history
Today's travelers don't have much need for "points of rock" to guide them on their cross-country road travels. But nonetheless, Kansas Department of Transportation officials should find a way to preserve such a point of history before they plow up ground to expand U.S. 50 through Dodge City.
A $69 million, 16-mile project scheduled in 2018 will expand U.S. 50 to four lanes through Dodge City, leveling the "Point of Rock" on the west side of the city. Anyone who has traveled that road knows the landmark because it is the site of one of two steel sculptures - the other being on the city's southeast side - featuring a silhouetted band of horsemen atop the rock outcropping with the words "Dodge City."
But the site is more significant than just the sculpture, iconic as it is. The hillside and rock outcropping was a landmark long before the sculpture was put there. Travelers on the Santa Fe Trail used it as a marker and a place where they could get an elevated view of the route and the surrounding prairie.
"There are four points of rock on the Santa Fe Trail, and three of those are in Kansas," explains Gary Kraisinger, who is on the board of the Great Western Cattle Trail Association and a member of an area chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association. "This is the very first one travelers would run across" on the road to Santa Fe, NM.
Later, when cattle drives came north out of Texas in the 1870s it was a marker signaling trail bosses to take their herds west of the city and turn north toward Ogallala, Nebraska It also was a point along the north-south Cherokee Trail, which came up from Oklahoma and eventually connected into the Oregon Trail.
KDOT doesn't think it has much of another option, because the right of way for expansion is restricted on the south side of the existing highway by railroad track, leaving only the space on the north, where the point of rock is located. The state originally proposed moving the whole highway route farther north, but locals objected to changing the alignment.
We wonder if the highway couldn't be split, retaining the existing part as the two eastbound lanes and building the new westbound lanes north of the monument. It actually could be a good way to protect this geological and historical feature of the land.
In any event, the objection to the highway plan has merit, and highway engineers should put their heads together to come up with a solution.
Few of the wagon wheel ruts from the old Santa Fe Trail remain. True, we need ribbons of pavement to travel today, so they serve no more functional purpose than a rise in the prairie that once was a lookout point. But this is important history worth preserving. And once it's gone, it can't be reclaimed.
St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press, Dec. 7
Cool bistate tensions
Two governors, two political parties, one border. It's natural to expect conflict, right?
Perhaps, but it doesn't mean we have to like it or approve of it.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback appeared insensitive when he didn't consult with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon before reviving this 30-year-old big idea: tapping the Missouri River at White Cloud and building a 360-mile aqueduct to carry life-supporting water to dry western Kansas.
Gov. Nixon, in turn, responded too harshly to this suggestion by dismissing it out of hand as "ill-advised" — not just the idea, but even the notion of Kansas studying the project at a cost of $300,000 to be shared by Kansas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
This followed, by two weeks, Gov. Nixon's big speech in Kansas City on the need for a moratorium on offering tax incentives to entice companies to move across the Missouri-Kansas state line. Kansas officials who had been working on this issue behind the scenes were caught off guard, and said so.
If this is a high-stakes version of tit-for-tat, we're not well served. The two governors reside on different ends of the political spectrum and in states with significantly different challenges. But if relations were functioning as they should, neither of these recent dustups would have occurred.
Citizens should expect both governors to do more to keep the lines of communication open. We think they also need to appreciate their two states are forever closely linked and they should proceed as though they are close allies, not feuding neighbors.
Concerning the river, Kansas is entitled to consider all of its options when it comes to providing water to its drought-prone regions. Gov. Brownback, in fact, campaigned on water policy and already has won support for conservation measures and steps to extend the life of the important Ogallala Aquifer.
The Kansas Aqueduct Project would employ a series of lift stations and canals that would carry water past Perry Lake, through the Flint Hills and into western Kansas. It would be a multibillion-dollar project that would take years, if not decades, to accomplish.
All seven states through which the Missouri River passes or forms a border should be concerned about how this project might affect management of the river. But while there is cause to be apprehensive, a scientific study that examines the important issues should be welcomed, not discouraged.
The Salina Journal, Dec. 5
Here's why you're hurting
Gov. Sam Brownback knows you are hurting, and he wants you to know whose fault it is.
The Environmental Protection Agency.
According to the Associated Press, the Kansas Corporation Commission recently granted Westar Energy's request for a $30.7 million rate increase. The AP story noted that the bulk of the rate increase will go to pay for required environmental upgrades at Westar's La Cygne power plant in eastern Kansas.
Under the settlement, residential customers will pay for more than half the increase, or $18 million. That works out to $3 a month for Westar customers who use an average of 900 kilowatt hours a month.
That's a problem, according to the governor.
"Kansans are now feeling increased energy costs due to expensive regulations handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency. Kansas homeowners, businesses and schools are hurting to pay for the decisions being made in Washington, D.C.," Brownback said.
If Kansas homeowners are hurting, it probably isn't because of any $3 a month hike in their utility bill. But when you're the governor of a redder-than-red state, there's never a bad time to take a swipe at the evil bureaucrats in Washington.
Even if one assumes that the EPA requirements are completely unnecessary, that $3 a month -- less than many fast-food meals -- isn't going to break anyone.
If the governor wants to mention things that are hurting people, he might do better to send out press releases about how he increased the state sales tax, although not by as much as he wanted.
He also might mention his administration's income tax cuts. The Kansas Legislative Research Department estimates that over a six-year period, the cuts will cost the state about $3.8 billion in revenue. Yes, Kansans will have a little more jingle in their pockets because of the cuts, but we wonder how the state will make up for that lack of revenue?
Brownback has called the income tax cuts a "shot of adrenaline" to the state's economy, so maybe the loss of revenue won't matter if our economy blasts off.
We hope the governor is right. Because if he's not, then we really will be hurting, and it won't be because of any silly $3 a month.