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Huelskamp behind farm bill provision

7/19/2013

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp is taking credit for inserting a provision into the House-passed farm bill that could benefit Hays-based Sunflower Electric in its bid to build a new power plant near Holcomb.

"The House-passed version of the farm bill includes a section authored by Congressman Huelskamp to clarify a regulation that affects recipients of Rural Utilities Service loans, including Hays, KS-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp.," the statement released Thursday by Huelskamp's office says.

Despite the provision's inclusion, Huelskamp voted against the bill, the second time he's voted against a farm bill. He was one of 12 Republicans voting against the stripped-down measure.

The Kansas Sierra Club made the provisions public Wednesday, saying it could make building a coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas easier.

It his statement, Huelskamp, R-Kan., said the move was necessary because of a federal court ruling the project would be subject to a review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

"The provisions in the farm bill won't make it easy to build Holcomb 2," a statement from Sunflower said. "It will, however, affirm procedures that had been in place for decades. Routine regulatory approvals where no federal funds are expended are not major federal actions and should not require a NEPA review. The provision in the farm bill would enable RUS to process routine requests in a reasonable amount of time, thus enabling electric cooperatives all over the country to continue to serve their members with reliable energy at the most affordable cost."

Sunflower spokeswoman Cindy Hertel initially said she wasn't aware of the provision.

"I did not realize it had made it in," Hertel said Thursday. "We since have discussed it, and I have a statement for you."

Sunflower is hoping to build a $2.8 billion, 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant near its existing plant near Holcomb.

"Congress is one step closer to approving my efforts to aid Sunflower Electric and protect more than 600 rural electric cooperatives from regulatory overkill," Huelskamp said in a statement. "It will be a great relief to First District Kansans. The Sunflower Electric's Holcomb plant expansion has already been delayed too long by federal bureaucrats. The privately funded Holcomb project will help meet the energy needs of Kansans, reduce the danger of brownouts, and bring $2 billion in economic activity to the region. It is a shame that environmental groups and regulatory excess continue to stand in the way of affordable electricity for rural America."

The lion's share of the electricity produced by the second Holcomb plant, however, would be used by Colorado customers of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

"The court's interpretation of the law is contrary to both Congress' intent and the USDA's longstanding practice for privately funded projects," the statement from Huelskamp's office said.

The amendment offered by Huelskamp was adopted by the House Agriculture Committee last year, his office reported, and incorporated into the farm bill passed by the House last week.

That bill, sent to the Senate this week, was brought forward by House Republicans after stripping out nutrition programs.