The Kansas House on Friday passed by a 79-44 vote a bill that could resurrect two coal-burning power plants proposed for western Kansas, but it was five votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a veto by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The bill now returns to the Senate, where lawmakers are confident they have enough votes to overturn a veto. Meanwhile, the Democratic governor could soon move to Washington as President Obama’s new secretary of health and human services (HHS).

Three times last year Gov. Sebelius vetoed legislation designed to authorize the plants proposed by the Sunflower Electric Power Corp. for Finney County.

If Congress confirms Sebelius’s nomination as U.S. HHS secretary, she will be replaced by Lieutenant Governor Mark Parkinson, a former Kansas Republican Party chair, who, if anything, “is a stronger opponent of the plants,” said the Kansas City Star. But the newspaper also speculated on Monday that Parkinson does not have Sebelius’s political clout to hold together opposition to the plants.

The legislative battle erupted after October 2007, when the state’s own health secretary, Roderick Bremby, backed by Gov. Sebelius, refused to grant air quality permits to Sunflower Electric for the two 700-MW plants, citing elevated carbon dioxide emissions.

Lawmakers contested that decision, saying that, because the state has no carbon dioxide standards, Bremby had overstepped his authority.

A Senate committee is now drafting a bill similar to HB 2182 that will limit the authority of the health secretary to regulate greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, Sunflower Corp., which has fought the denial on several fronts, recently filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction prohibiting the state from considering carbon dioxide emissions in its application.

The company wants to sell 86% of the power produced by the two plants to out-of-state electric cooperatives that are helping to finance the project.

Coal-fired power plants supply more than three-fourths of the electricity needs in Kansas, and the single-unit Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Burlington supplies almost all of the remainder, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Sources: Kansas City Star, EIA, POWERnews