By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a big win for environmentalists, the Democratic governor of Kansas on Friday vetoed legislation that would have allowed a huge coal-fired power plant to expand in the state and spew 11 million more tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year.
The bill, approved by the Republican-dominated Kansas legislature, would have allowed Sunflower Electric Power Corp to add two 700-megawatt units at a facility in western Kansas.
Under the bill, lawmakers sought to strip the authority of the Kansas health and environment secretary, who turned down the $3.6 billion project last year because it would have produced more carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.
However, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed the bill, saying federal regulations of greenhouse gas emissions emitted by coal-powered electric generating plants will likely be implemented in the next several years.
"We know that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change," Sebelius said in a statement. "As an agricultural state, Kansas is particularly vulnerable. Therefore, reducing pollutants benefits our state not only in the short term -- but also for generations of Kansans to come."
Environmental groups hope Kansas will influence more states to reject new coal-fired power plants.
Sunflower said it was disappointed by the governor's decision. "If not resolved, this veto will unnecessarily raise electric rates for Kansas families and punish our Kansas workers and industries," Sunflower President Earl Watkins said.
"We are experiencing significant growth on the Sunflower system and we must add new coal generation to support our existing natural gas and wind generation assets," he said.
Sunflower represents six electric cooperatives, among 66 electric cooperatives and 10 Kansas cities that will own power produced by the coal-fired units.
In addition to the veto, Sebelius issued an executive order creating an energy and environmental policy advisory group make recommendations to the governor on how to reduce Kansas' greenhouse gas emissions. She named Jack Pelton, chairman of Cessna Aircraft Co, to head the advisory group.
(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Bill Trott)