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Out of Kansas: A National Clean Energy Agenda

America can become energy independent and lead the world in fighting climate change by taking cues from the epic energy fight in Kansas, an Earthjustice national energy forum has concluded.

The forum, held June 26, 2008 in Denver, produced a national clean energy agenda useful as this country moves towards a change in leadership. The emphasis was on breaking our addiction to polluting fossil fuels. Earthjustice presented its own assessment of what such an agenda should contain.

More than 250 people at the forum -- including some of this nation's leading figures in politics and sustainable energy -- gave a standing ovation to Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius after she described how eight months of "political firestorm" made her state a national leader in seeking alternatives to fossil fuels.

The struggle began the previous October when Sebelius refused to allow expansion of a coal-fired power plant in Kansas, which gets 75 percent of its power from coal -- a leading contributor to climate change. Alluding to the federal government's failure to address global warming, the governor said it was up to the states to lead the way. Her prescription for Kansas: energy efficiency to quell consumption, and wind power to replace coal and other carbon-based energy sources.

Almost instantly, Sebelius came under attack.

"Every major coal group in the country came to Kansas. They figured this was a fight they could win," Sebelius said. After failing to rouse public opinion -- 64 percent of Kansans stuck with the governor's position -- the coal powers rallied the legislature. Almost every state legislator joined against Sebelius. Three times she vetoed bills that would have allowed the coal plant. By only one vote, she finally prevailed.

"There's no such thing as clean coal... it's a myth," she responded to those who argued about current coal technology.

"She stuck to her guns. She's done something really remarkable... she's a heroine," observed Randy Udall, one of three panelists who reflected on the lessons of Kansas as they discussed elements of what a national clean energy agenda should contain. Other panelists were Tom Plant and Ronald Lehr. Plant is the energy chief for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. Lehr is a prominent environmental attorney who represents the American Wind Association.

Lehr, who helped write the recent, major Department of Energy study on wind power, said wind can almost immediately be a dominant source of national electricity. Unlike solar and coal, wind "doesn’t need a breakthrough," he said -- it's ready now but lacks investment and commitment from the federal government.

Energy efficiency is the key to cutting energy consumption, said Plant. He said Colorado plans to reduce half of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, just through efficiency. Accomplishing that goal means creating state incentives for solar installations, he said.

Udall, a member of the political Udall family and former director of Aspen's Community Office of Resource Efficiency, gave his second to the need for energy efficiency. He also echoed Sebelius' cry that we must look out for our children's future. A speech he gave nine years ago predicted the oil/gasoline price crisis we now are in.

View a video of the Governor's entire speech.

View an edited version of the "Out of Kansas" program on our website.