"Koch-Funded Groups Fuel Assault On Kansas Clean Energy Law"
A bill designed to repeal Kansas’ clean energy law is moving quickly through the state legislature this week — an effort led by corporate-backed, pro-fossil fuel groups that have fought to kill renewable energy laws around the country.
The Senate Utilities Committee approved the bill to repeal the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) on Thursday, along with a maneuver by Committee Chairman Pat Apple (R-Louisburg) that would allow the House to approve the bill without holding a public hearing, as long as it’s approved by the Senate. The Senate vote will likely be Tuesday and the House could vote as soon as Wednesday.
“Repeal efforts are being led by House and Senate leaders, backed by the Kansas Chamber, Americans for Prosperity, and American Legislative Exchange Council,” the Lawrence Journal-World reported. Several of these groups are familiar faces in the well-funded push to stymie the growth of clean energy in states across the country. Funded by corporations, fossil fuel interests and the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers, ALEC tried to repeal clean energy targets in 13 states last year — including Kansas — and failed on all fronts.
Despite the overwhelming failure, ALEC is still at it in 2014, “crafting new model bills that aim to weaken solar net metering policies, open loopholes in disclosure requirements for fracking chemicals, and establish restrictions for state agencies that will be required to limit carbon pollution from power plants under the upcoming Environmental Protection Agency standards.” ALEC drafted the model bill, Electricity Freedom Act, to help state legislators repeal renewable energy standards.
Americans for Prosperity, another Koch-funded organization, is no stranger to misleading attacks on clean energy either. AFP recently launched a media blitz in Kansas, running TV and radio ads that attempt to tie the RPS to former governor Kathleen Sebelius, despite the fact that it was signed into law by her successor. The ads also attribute electricity rate hikes to the standards, which prompted former Senate President Dave Kerr, (R-Hutchinson) to call them “provably false.”
Sen. Pat Apple, Chair of the Utilities Committee that passed the bill, has ties to the organizations pushing the repeal. Apple’s third largest contributor is the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with nine donations totaling $4,148, according to FollowTheMoney. Koch Industries is also one of his top contributors, with $3,400 in donations. In total, the oil and gas industry has given $19,425, making it his second highest industry donor.
On Monday, Apple was nominated by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), effective immediately pending Senate confirmation. The appointment is particularly notable considering “the KCC regulates natural gas, electricity, telephone and transportation operations in Kansas, including setting rates charged by utilities.”
Clean energy advocates warn that killing the renewable energy standard puts the significant jobs and economic activity it has brought to the state at risk. Passed by an overwhelming majority in 2009, the bipartisan bill creating Kansas’ RPS requires ten percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources, increasing to 20 percent by 2020.
While Jeff Glendening, Kansas state director of Americans For Prosperity, “blamed the RPS for a 22 percent increase in electric rates,” the Lawrence Journal-World notes that “a report by the Kansas Corporation Commission shows that the impact of the renewable energy standards is about one-fifth of one cent of the average 9.9 cents per kilowatt hour electricity cost.”
More significantly, the clean energy standard has created 13,000 direct and indirect jobs and has generated $7 billion in economic activity for the state. The private sector has realized the potential for investment and has financed over $1.2 billion to help build the state’s clean energy economy.
The RPS has been particularly instrumental in driving the state’s robust and steadily growing wind industry. Kansas added the second most wind capacity in the nation in 2012, and currently ranks 8th for total megawatts of wind energy installed. This has allowed local landowners to receive approximately $13 million in annual lease payments and royalties.
And the clean energy standard isn’t just popular among the industry and investors. A recent poll, conducted by North Star Opinion Research, found that 91 percent of Kansas voters are supportive of using renewable energy. Further, the poll found the RPS enjoys favorability across the political spectrum. The survey, commissioned by the Wind Coalition, Climate and Energy Project, Kansans for Wind Energy, and the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club, found that the 2009 law receives a 73 percent show of support among Republicans, 75 percent among Independents and 82 percent among Democrats. What’s more, two-thirds of voters would support increasing the state’s renewable energy standard, even if it meant a $1-2 increase on their electric bill.
If the RPS repeal makes it through the state legislature, it will head to the desk of Gov. Brownback. Going into the final legislative session before he faces re-election, Brownback was aware that GOP legislative leaders were going to attempt another repeal effort of the RPS. The governor, who has said he is “pro-wind energy” and is supportive of the Production Tax Credit, declined to say whether or not he would veto a repeal bill in December. Brownback’s support of clean energy puts him at odds with the Koch brothers and the organizations they fund — which have contributed substantially to both his senate and gubernatorial campaigns.
Tiffany Germain, Senior Climate and Energy Researcher for the ThinkProgress War Room, and Matt Kasper, Research Assistant for the energy team at the Center for American Progress, contributed to this piece.