Kansas Legislative News #2 – Update from Legislative Director Zack Pistora

Kansas Legislative News #2
February 10th, 2014

Zack Pistora
Legislative Director
Sierra Club – Kansas Chapter
22801 Golden Rd, Linwood KS 66052
Phone: 785-865-6503
email: zack@kansas.sierraclub.org

Legislation is stacking up; KS Sierra Club confident the Kansas people will prevail over special interests
            Two days off from the heavy snow last week hasn’t cooled down the action at the Statehouse.  Committee Chairs are packing in the hearings, not just from a large number of new bills introduced already, but because last session’s unfinished business is still viable in our second half of the two-year legislative cycle.  To this lobbyist, it seems like there are an unusually high proportion of environmentally-related bills, particularly relating to energy, wildlife, and land protection.  Most of these bills are bad, but a few are good.  Fortunately, all of these legislative issues provide our Kansas Chapter of Sierra Club a chance to voice environmental problems with lawmakers and build upon the popular Kansan sentiment to improve our clean energy economy and preserve our wonderful lands and wildlife.  You can bet on me hopping in and out committees and legislators’ offices all session long providing accurate information and smart policy options to our lawmakers.  But I need your help persuading our officials too.  Here’s my analysis on what’s happening in the Capitol and how you can pitch in.

SPECIAL COMMENTARY:
Have You Heard the News?  More Kansans are Going Green (Legislators Should Take Note)

1.  New Poll Shows Kansans of All Stripes Favor MORE Renewable Energy
 A new poll released last month showed that 91% of Kansans support renewable energy, compared to 19% who think fossil fuels are best suited to meet our energy needs in the next ten years.  Kansas Sierra Club worked with partner groups to fund an independent, third party survey of 600 Kansan voters to reveal how Kansans felt about energy, even though we had a hunch that a majority of Kansans supported clean, renewable energy.  The poll shows that not only do Kansans support our renewable energy policies, like our 20% goal of renewable energy by 2020, but a majority of those surveyed favored expanding the our goal to 25% by 2020 and would pay up to $5 extra on their bill to make that happen. 
See our poll results in below PDF.KS Energy Presentation – Release


2.  Agency Finds More Kansans are Recycling, Meanwhile Total Landfill Trash Amounts are Down
KS Dept. of Health & Environment (KDHE) reported that approximately a third of Kansans are now recycling, up 15% since 2005.  This has driven the total amount of landfill tonnage down, as Kansas now diverts over a 1 million tons of municipal solid waste.  Kansas’ recycling rates are barely under the national average (around 35%).  KDHE reports that from 2005-2011, per capita disposal rates dropped 22%, from 5.5 pounds of trash per person per day, to a little over 4 pounds.  This trend in increased recycling and reduced trash has saved Kansans conserved landfill capacity, saved money on disposal costs,  and have minimized transportation impacts such as fuel consumption and air pollution.

3.  Polling Shows Kansans Believe in Climate Change and Want Climate Action
           
Two polls have surfaced in the past year that looks into Kansans’ sentiment on climate change.  Stanford University has conducted surveys in all states, including Kansas, to see how Americans felt about global warming and our government’s responsibility in limiting carbon pollution.  Their results in KS showed that 78% of Kansans believe in global warming, that 84% think it’s a serious issue facing the world, and that 71% believe that human actions are the principal cause behind the changing climate.  This Stanford Poll also shows that 78% of Kansans feel the government should limit greenhouse gases from U.S. businesses.
Kansas State University conducted a 3-year survey of Kansas’ opinion on climate change and found that 88% of Kansans surveyed were sure climate change was happening, 80% believed climate change was indeed humans’ fault, and 86% expected global warming would harm their life personally.  K-State found that after more deliberative discussion with those surveyed, these numbers slightly increased.  See their full report.

Current Water Ideas Leave Us Thirsty for More
Long-term water availability may still be the biggest environmental issue (still) facing Kansas.  Scientists have warned about upcoming “water wars” and the declining Ogallala-High Plains Aquifer seems to be a prime example of where impeding water scarcity meets conflicts of interest in water rights.  The Kansas Geological Survey reports that the Ogallala has dropped nearly 60% in some places since 1950, K-State estimates a third of the aquifer has already been drained, and the USGS says the previous decade of water use has led to the highest water depletion rate we’ve seen. K-State predicts that 70% of the whole Ogallala will be gone in the next 50 years if current practices don’t change.  The aquifer serves over 2.3 million people and is estimated at $5 billion in direct value.
Who is to blame?  Largely, crop irrigators, particularly Western Kansas corn growers, are the reason the aquifer is depleting so fast.  Irrigators, which comprise ~15% of total farming sector, are using nearly 85% of Kansas’ total groundwater and surface water.  Currently, the water from the Ogallala is being withdrawn over 3 times of what its annual recharge allows.
Ideas anybody? Governor Brownback has tasked state agencies and the KS legislature to develop 50-year plan to address the ongoing water problem.  His administration along with the KS Water Office and KS Water Authority, have proposed dredging of our reservoirs as the primary tactic to address water.  Another idea “floated” by SW KS Groundwater Management District #3, calls for a multi-billion dollar aquaduct to transport water out the Missouri River out to Western KS.  The Kansas Sierra Club is wondering if these ideas (super expensive) are the best policy options that our best & brightest water officials can come up with??
Our suggestions:  1) If Governor Brownback truly feels the Ogallala water issue is important as he says, he can start by transferring the $6 million to the State Water Plan Fund from the State’s General Fund as mandated in KS statute (since 2012, Brownback has deleted this funding).  2) If we are to really address the root of the problem, we need to address the irrigation problem.  Irrigators ought to be held accountable with higher water prices because of their disproportionate impact on the state’s water supply.  It’s simply not fair for a small percentage of farmers to take the largest proportion of our water.  We’d like to see these farmers incorporate better water efficiency practices, switch crops, and pay into a “Water Depletion Trust Fund” that would financially compensate counties for the property value loss from continued water withdrawal.

MAJOR CONCERNS THIS WEEK BY TOPIC:

Climate
HR 6043
– Urging Congress to oppose the President’s Climate Action Plan
What the Resolution Does: Offers a lousy excuse for not taking action on climate change.  Chairman Hedke, a climate change denier and oil & gas contractor, is out to “prove?” to Congress (or maybe his re-election donors) that human caused climate change is not real and Kansas shouldn’t do any climate plan, let alone one from a Democrat.

Our Stance: OPPOSEDNearly all climate scientists and most Kansans realize that climate problems are happening and that we ought to act now to protect our future generations from ongoing trouble.  Pretending the problem isn’t there and opposing positive federal action, like supporting funding for research and renewable energy projects in KS, is all wrong.

Status:  Hearing Thursday, Feb. 13th at 9am in House Energy & Environment Committee.

Take Action:   1) Call Chairman Hedke (785-296-7699) and tell him to toss HR 6043 in the recycling bin and to get to work on crafting a real plan for climate action in Kansas.  2)  Send your short responses to our FaceBook page, and submit your longer responses as written testimony for the committee’s attention, by sending your statement to Zack@kansas.sierraclub.org by 10pm, Tuesday, Feb. 11th. 3) Attend Thursday’s hearing.

HCR 5014 – Urging the President to Approve the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline.
What the Resolution Does:  Urges President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to approve the permit for Canadian Oil Company, TransCanada, to send dirty crude tar sands oil 2000 miles from Alberta, CAN to Port Arthur, TX.

Our Stance: OPPOSEDWhen the United States and the world are struggling with life-threatening, billion dollar climate-related disasters, we cannot afford to endorse a project that increases the climate problem.  Resource extraction for Tar Sands bitumen scars lands, and its spills into our waters have already have caused significant ecological damage (Mayflower, AR and Kalamazoo River, MI).  Economically, if Tar Sands oil enters the global market, we’ll allow more countries like Asia access to use and burn dirty carbon-intensive fuel and domestically, it’ll likely drive up petroleum prices with increased international market demand.

Status:  Hearing on Thursday, Feb. 13th at 1:30pm in Senate Utilities, Room 346-S.

Take Action:   
1) Sign our NO to KEYSTONE XL Petition at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/stop-the-keystone-xl-11 
2) Check out our own Sierra Club testimony on our website.
3)  Send your short responses to our FaceBook page, and submit your longer responses as written testimony for the committee’s attention to Zack@kansas.sierraclub.org by 10pm, Tuesday, Feb. 11th.

Energy
HB 2458 / SB 280 – Eliminating the Net Metering Policy
What the Bill Does: Lets utilities retract their 2009 policy that pays customers who generate their own energy (like with solar panels and small-scale turbines) retail price for the energy the customer sells to the utility as its put back onto the grid.  Westar and KCPL wish to use a parallel generation format, that pays customers 150% of  avoided costs (about two-thirds less than what they pay out now for net metering), even though they still get full retail price for selling the energy that solar and small-scale wind users have generated with their own investment dollars.  The legislation allows the KCC to enact a solar tax on net metered customers.

Our Stance: OPPOSED  With solar panel prices dropping down nearly 80% in the last 5 years, the free market has propelled an affordable option for homeowners and businesses to invest in DIY energy; clean energy that doesn’t use any water, and can be used by utilities to supplement their electric capacity. Our 2009 Net Metering law struck a fair deal between electric utilities and home-energy producers – giving them credit at the same price level that the utility is getting paid.    The policy has been utilized and helpful for ~200 of  ~1,000,000 Kansas electric customers.  Net Metering-customers pay for the same fixed costs for power lines and electricity access as everyone else. Protections, like capacity and production limits, already shield utilities from ever falling in a sticky financial situation.  When the state needs extra renewable energy in reducing fossil fuels in their energy mix, scrapping a beneficial policy like net metering is the wrong direction.  So is putting an additional, discriminatory tax on Kansans who invest their own hard-earned money into their home energy systems.  Kansans who generate their own energy are doing their state a favor.  Don’t punish them.

Status:  Hearings happened last week in both the House & Senate, and will likely be voted on in the House Energy & Environment committee on Tuesday, Feb. 11th at 9:00am, and Wednesday Feb. 12th at 1:30pm in the Senate.  The 3 proponents were all utilities: Westar, KCPL, and Empire.  14 Opponents, included solar businesses, national solar industry experts, and private citizens, and a coalition of environmental, rural/farmer, and faith-based groups.  See what we said in our testimony

Take Action:   1)  Sign this petition:  2) Call (or FaceBook / Tweet) your Representatives and Senators on Monday or Tuesday, before they vote on the bill.  3) If you or someone you know might be affected by the Net Metering policy, as a resident or business owner… it’d be good idea to reach out everyone on the committee to oppose the bill.

SB 154 – Amending the Expiration date for credits on the Net Metering Policy
What the Bill Does:  Gives more flexibility to customers to choose their expiration date between the end of March, September, or December.

Our Stance: SUPPORTIVE  This bill could allow those who generate their own electricity to perhaps utilize their energy credits better if they had ability to use their banked credits on a schedule that matches their electric consumption and generation.

Status: SB 154 is sitting in Senate Utilities, awaiting action from the Chairman or committee.

Wildlife
HB 2499 / SB 276 – Enacting the State Sovereignty over Non-Migratory Wildlife
What the Bill Does: The bill would establish the state as being the sole regulatory authority to govern the management, habitats, hunting, and possession of lesser and greater prairie chickens within Kansas. In addition, the bill would establish that lesser and greater prairie chickens and their habitats existing within the state are not subject to federal laws, treaties, federal regulations, or executive action, nor could any federal agent or contracted employee, any state employee, or any local authority enforce any federal law or regulation that specifically regulates lesser and greater prairie chickens or their habitats within Kansas.

Our Stance: OPPOSED  Secretary of State Kris Kobach has found time in his busy of suspending Kansas voters, to chime in on another apparent states’ rights issue; protecting the Kansas prairie chickens from the feds.  Instead of working with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism (KDWPT) to follow a cooperative, interstate plan of habitat conservation with the prairie chickens, Kobach, the KS Farm Bureau, and KS Electric Cooperatives have all decided that no federal authorities are welcome here to protect our increasingly threatened, prized native birds.  The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has estimated the population of the Lesser Prairie Chicken has fallen as much as 90% due to its habitat loss to conversion to cropland and development.  This legislation, if passed, would likely incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation costs, paid for by Kansas taxpayers, for Mr. Kobach to make his point.  Here’s an idea: why don’t we instead spend that money on actually protecting the prairie chicken?

Status:  On the Senate side, the Senate Natural Resources Committee passed the bill out of committee to the floor for the whole body to approve.  SB 276 has been sitting on the bottom of General Orders, so we hope the bill stays there and doesn’t receive any more consideration.  HB 2499, in House Ag & Natural Resources, hasn’t received a hearing and will likely wait for the Senate to act before doing anything.

Take Action:   1) Learn more and sign a petition at http://audubonofkansas.org/2014/kansas-senate-bill-would-criminalize-conservation-of-prairie-chickens/  2) Call or write your State Senator and tell them you oppose SB 276.  3) Call Secretary Kobach (785) 296-4564 and tell him that KS taxpayers do NOT want to waste their money on litigation costs, and that he should let KDWPT do their job to protect our Prairie Chicken.  Also, you might ask him what happens if the “chicken crosses the road?”

Land Protection
SB 323 – Amending the Duration of a Conservation Easement
What the Bill Does: A conservation easement (a legal agreement that retires development rights in favor of permanent land conservation) would be limited to a specific duration period, either spelled out in the contract, or upon the easements’ grantor’s death.

Our Stance: OPPOSED  SB 323 removes the fundamental benefit and value of the 1992 Kansas conservation easement act and strips Kansas landowners of their property rights to conserve their land.  When a landowner wishes to keep their legacy family farm from being developed into a strip mall, or when a landowner wants to preserve a beautiful, native land from being plowed under, a conservation easement allows the ability for a third party to protect that land long after the owner is gone.  Do we want the State Government interfering with our private property rights?

Status:  A hearings happened last Friday in Senate Natural Resources, but only opponents were present.  Opponents included KS Livestock Association’s Ranchland Trust, KS Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, and private landowners.  A continued hearing will take place this Friday to hear proponents.

OTHER LEGISLATION WE’RE MONITORING THIS WEEK
HB 2541Replacing labeling requirements for recycling plastics
Hearing in House Local Govt., Tuesday, Feb. 11th at 1:30pm, Capitol room 281-N.

HB 2550
Repeal of the atmospheric mercury deposition monitoring network
Hearing in House Agriculture & Natural Resources on Tues., Feb. 11th, at 3:30pm in 346-S.

HB 2439Creating the sustainable drinking water source protection fund
Hearing in House Agriculture & Natural Resources on Tues., Feb. 11th, at 3:30pm in 346-S.

SB 293
 – Municipalities; solid waste collection & limitations
Hearing in Senate Commerce on Tuesday morning, 8:30am, Feb. 11th, in 548-S.

SB 286 – Extending sunset date on certain agriculture fees
Hearing and possible action in Senate Agriculture, Feb. 11th, 8:30am, in 159-S.

HB 2451Creating the Electric Car Highway Fee
Hearing in House Transportation at 1:30pm on Wednesday, Feb. 12th, room 582-N.

HB 2465
Enabling tax-exempt entities to utilize renewable energy options
Hearing in House Utilities and Telecom. at 9am on Wednesday, Feb. 12th , room 582-N.

HB 2460Allowing power purchase agreements between large users and generators of renewable energy
Hearing in House Utilities and Telecom. at 9am on Wednesday, Feb. 12th in 582-N.

HB 2551Repealing regulation of PCB disposal facilities
Hearing in House Agriculture & Natural Resources on Wed., Feb. 12th, at 3:30pm in 346-S.

Check Out Kansas Sierra Club’s New Website
            If you haven’t seen our new Kansas Chapter of Sierra Club’s website… you ought to go and check it out.  For y our reference, you can find out who your representative is, you can see more of my previous legislative updates, as well as our issue positions, and contact information, all on our website.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions. As always, thank you for being apart of Kansas Sierra Club, for taking action this legislative session, and a BIG thank you  for caring for our planet!

Your proud Kansas Lobbyist,

Zack Pistora
Legislative Director
Sierra Club – KS Chapter
zack@kansas.sierraclub.org
785-865-6503

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