The lawmakers indicated they would try to adopt legislation to put the plants back on track.
"I believe that we will have some type of legislative package developed, either before the session starts or after the session begins, to address this issue," said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.
But Kansas Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby, who denied the plants because of concerns about global warming, told legislators that future guidelines on carbon dioxide emissions will be considered as power plants come in for permit renewals.
"We do need to take the next step in looking at a climate change action plan," said Bremby, although he said targeted goals for CO2 reductions would not be in the form of regulations.
Bremby faced the legislative equivalent of a firing squad as he was summoned to testify to a recently formed committee composed of only supporters of the two 700-megawatt plants.
"What force of law did you have (to deny the plants)? " asked Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, who serves as chairman of the Electric Generation Review Committee. Even though the state doesn't regulate carbon dioxide, Bremby said he denied the permits because the CO2 emissions from the plants would have harmed the health of Kansans and the environment.
"CO2 contributes to climate change, which contributes to global warming, which is harmful to all humans," he said.
Repeatedly, members of the committee asked Bremby if he intended to put in place regulations to limit CO2 in existing coal-burning power plants. Bremby said that the state needs to develop a plan to reduce emissions.
"We have an issue we need to deal with," he said.
At times, Bremby backed off answering questions because, he said, the proposal by Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. will probably be decided in court. Although called to the committee, Attorney General Paul Morrison declined to appear, citing the possibility of future litigation in the case.
Morrison wrote a letter to the panel saying he stood by his legal analysis that Bremby had the authority to deny the permits under Kansas law.
Earlier, Sunflower chief executive officer Earl Watkins Jr. urged legislators to reverse Bremby's decision by passing a law that would restrict the secretary's authority to regulate only what the federal government is allowed to regulate.
Watkins said Bremby's decision was a "callous disregard of the law" that will put the Kansas economy at risk because of "regulatory uncertainty." He said Bremby's order could cause higher electric rates for rural customers, business flight, and force Sunflower to build its next plant in Oklahoma or Texas. And Watkins and others called to testify by Holmes downplayed the effects of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming.
"Carbon dioxide is a substance that sustains life," Watkins said. Executives from Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light also testified that Kansas must have more coal-powered plants to meet increasing demand.