New Faces, New Opportunities

The Kansas statehouse is buzzing again as the 2013 legislative session is now underway.  With conservative supermajorities in both chambers and Governor Brownback leading the way, Kansas Sierra Club will have its work cut out for them in convincing the Republicans that environmental protection and improvement is smart policymaking.  Of course,conservatives should be for conservation, as the true meaning of “conservative” is to preserve things as they traditionally are.  Preserving our Kansas homeland when it comes to saving our water, keeping our environment free from corporate pollution, and demanding a clean energy infrastructure is not only at the heart of conservatism, but of anyone who cares about our health, our economy, and our future.  I am so excited to be back as your Kansas Sierra Club lobbyist and voicing the advantages of going green in the statehouse.


New Faces, New Opportunities

There are plenty of new faces in our Kansas legislature, but that could present new opportunities to advance an environmental agenda in the capitol.  Forty percent of the House are brand new, first-time legislators.  While they may not have the institutional experience of state legislating, they do bring with them new ideas and energy as well as their own personal experience and thoughts on environmental issues.  We all count on the environment for our well-being, so we hope we can count on them (and all state legislators) to work to protect our precious state from more environmental damage.  I will be working intently on forming relationships with these new politicians and persuading them to make our concerns part of their agenda.


We need Governor Brownback to Step Up

There could not be any more important partner the Kansas environment than Governor Brownback.  While he may not be popular with left-leaning environmental supporters, he wields great power of leadership in our state, but he needs to prove to Kansans that he cares about our land, air, and water by standing up for better oversight and smarter policymaking when it comes to energy production, water usage, pollution rules, and homegrown Kansas jobs.  Kansas endured the worst heat of any state for one of worst droughts we have ever seen in our country.


As our climate worsens with more extreme weather events, Kansas continues to carry the burden of billion-dollar losses in agriculture, suffering people and animals, and dried-up or algae-filled water bodies.  Meanwhile, we import and burn dirty coal, allow new oil and gas exploration without comprehensive safeguards, and continue to let out-of-state companies control the market with corporate farming.  Governor Brownback realizes our water is our most precious resource and that our lands are a place of enjoyment and utility – but he needs to put money where his mouth is.  At a time where drought and water supplies have worsened, the Governor’s budget reduces program funding for the State Water Plan Fund, as well as key water programs through the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment and Dept. of Agriculture.


In his State of State Address, Governor Brownback inspirationally stated, “Our forefathers and mothers sacrificed to provide for us.  Now we must prepare, and in some cases, sacrifice, so our children and grandchildren will be provided for.  We will go forward by simply doing the right things for our children.”  Governor, the Kansas Sierra Club agrees.  And here arejust a few ideaswe have to offer.


Key Issues for 2013

  • Water Conservation

There might not be a bigger issue facing all of Kansas than the drought.  104 of 105 counties have been declared drought disaster areas.  The drought is devastating our crops, drying up water sources, causing rise in disease of horses and deer, and is bankrupting our small farmers.  Meanwhile, Governor Brownback’s best idea put forth in his State of the State speech is that Kansas needs to dredge out our reservoirs more?  That’s ridiculous.  We need much stronger efforts than that.  Conventional agriculture uses around 85% of our total water usage each year – so why not start by employing smarter, water-saving agriculture techniques and plant more drought-resistant crops like sorghum.  We also should make sure our water goes to our families and food production first, not for hydrofracking.  Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a process in which millions of gallons of water are pressurized, mixed with chemicals and sand, and then injected underground to allow buried fuels to be pumped to the surface.  Because the enormous amount of water used in hydrofracking becomes to so contaminated with chemicals, the water cannot be cleaned or recycled… lost forever.  Furthermore, hydraulic fracturing poses an even greater risk to our public health and environment as it may contaminate the water supply underground as the chemicals as well as the methane from the natural gas gets dispersed into our water table through well-casing failures and gas migration.  As natural gas companies obtain more gas leases from Kansas landowners, the right to abundant, clean water belonging to our people ends up in the hands of the gas industry.


  • Safeguards and Oversight for Fracking

Certainly, a very good way to preserve our water and reduce pollution in Kansas is to regulate new techniques of extracting natural gas and oil called “fracking”, a term that references horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.  You might be familiar with fracking with the new Matt Damon movie, Promised Land.  Big energy companies, much like what Matt Damon works for in the film, have come to Kansas seeking to capture oil and natural gas from the shale deposits in our Mississippian Lime formation.  Currently, 140 horizontal drilling rigs are set up in south-central Kansas and more are filing for intent-to-drill permits as we speak.  All the while, the state is lacking both rules and regulations and staff to oversee this activity to make sure the drilling minimizes the threat to our scarce water supplies and health.Many other states, like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Wyoming, and Louisiana have already faced wide-ranging problems associated with fracking, including water contamination, water loss, air pollution, truck traffic, community safety issues like violence against women, noise problems, and earthquakes.  While natural gas and oil from our state may provide some level of economical and environmental gains, we must demand that we develop the proper capacity to make sure we do not suffer the consequences extracting fossil fuels by sending blasts of water and toxic chemicals down into our earth and capturing an explosive and heavy-greenhouse gas that is natural gas.  Kansas Sierra Club has produced a list of rules and regulations that will help protect our communities, our ranchers and farmers, and oil and gas industry alike.


  • Supporting Clean, Kansas Energy

Kansas finished second in the nation in wind energy built in 2012.  Last year alone, we doubled our total wind energy capacity and attracted over $3 billion in investment.  There is no doubt that Kansas wind is a great source of clean energy and quality jobs.  A new report by Polsinelli-Shughart and the Kansas Energy Information Network shows the economic advantages of wind energy in being the best energy for Kansas in terms of overall leveled costs, keeping consumer rates downlong-term and bringing income into communities.  Yet, right-wing fronts like Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute – which are largely funded by oil industry executives like the Koch Brothers, are scheming to freeze our Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) which would reduce our goal to get renewable energy to a 20% level by 2020.  These groups claim that renewable energy mandates are costing us jobs and creating substantially higher costs for consumers, when in actuality they are not.  If Kansas were to eliminate our RPS, they would be the first state in the country to do such a thing.  While the RPS keeps our “open for business” clearly signals to new investors of clean energy, these industry-policy groups are suggestingtaking that sign down because of “market freedom.”  Shouldn’t there be market freedom for clean energy – when fossil fuels have dominated our energy market for years?  Shouldn’t cleaner air, more water, and cheaper energy long-term be more important than that anyway?  Kansas Sierra Club will be working hard, along with many allies, to make sure our Governor and state legislators understand this.


Follow What’s Happening in Topeka andContact your Legislators

These issues, and more, are important to our state’s well-being.  As the legislative session continues, I will be listing the latest bills relating to ecological preservation.  I encourage everyone to follow the state’s legislation and join the Kansas Sierra Club in being active in the political process this year.  Contacting your state representatives and expressing your advocacy for the environment is a great way to support our efforts in Topeka.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions.  Also, thank you for being apart of Kansas Sierra Club and caring for your planet!

Zack Pistora
Legislative Director
Kansas Sierra Club

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