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Energy Solutions

Gunning for Sustainability in Kansas

Fear of Agenda 21, a United Nations environmental declaration, fuels a bill to ban sustainability planning in the state of Kansas

The Konza Prairie in the Flint Hills of northeastern Kansas.
Image Credit: Bill Johnson

I love many things about Kansas — from the tall-grass prairies in the Flint Hills where I’ve hiked through rolling hills overlooking grazing bison to the dramatic waterfowl migrations in the Cheyenne Bottoms region in the western part of the state.

But a bill currently in committee in the Kansas Legislature makes me wonder whether these natural treasures will be around for future generations to enjoy. Reading about this legislation simply left my jaw agape. At issue is whether the Kansas legislature should outlaw anything that even remotely encourages sustainability planning.

Kansas House Bill Number 2366, “An Act concerning the use of funds to promote or implement sustainable development,” begins as follows:

“Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Kansas:

Section 1. (a) No public funds may be used, either directly or indirectly, to promote, support, mandate, require, order, incentivize, advocate, plan for, participate in or implement sustainable development. This prohibition on the use of public funds shall apply to:

(1) Any activity by any state governmental entity or municipality;

(2) the payment of membership dues to any association;

(3) employing or contracting for the service of any person or entity;

(4) the preparation, distribution or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, electronic communication, radio, television or video presentation;

(5) any materials prepared or presented as part of a class, course, curriculum or instructional material;

(6) any current, proposed or pending law, rule, regulation, code, administrative action or order issued by any federal or international agency; and

(7) any federal or private grant, program or initiative…”

You can’t make this stuff up!

Defining sustainable development

The sponsors of this legislation aren’t beating around the bush; they are explicit about what they oppose. The bill defines sustainable development as “a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come…”

That sounds pretty good to me. I can’t understand what one would find to oppose in that definition of sustainability. That sustainable development can be seen as so evil that it needs legislating against simply boggles my mind. What’s wrong with providing for the needs of future generations?

Agenda 21

The radical right in this country has been gaining tremendous traction in vilifying Agenda 21, a nonbinding plan adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, better known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June, 1992.

Glenn Beck and various Tea Party commentators (wrongly labeled as “conservatives”) have fanned the flames of opposition to Agenda 21, painting it as an evil international conspiracy to deny Americans their property rights. The message seems to be taking hold. In 2012, for example, the Republican Party Platform included the statement, “We strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty.”

Kansas isn’t alone among states in seeking legislation opposing this supposed threat to our sovereignty. In June 2012, Alabama became the first state to pass legislation related to Agenda 21 when both chambers of the state legislature unanimously passed Senate Bill 477, referred to as the “Due Process for Property Rights” act.

Signed by Governor Robert Bentley, the law “specifically prevents all state agencies and local governments in Alabama from participating in the global scheme in any way,” according to, a website owned by the John Birch Society.

A similar measure sailed through the Arizona Senate, but died in the Arizona House after that body failed to take final action on it before adjourning last year.

Is it evil to plan ahead?

To me, the irony of the Glenn Beck/Tea Party opposition to planning for the future is that such planning should be at the heart of a truly conservative agenda. Conservative Americans should want to conserve resources so that their children and grandchildren will be able to benefit from those resources and enjoy the same comforts and wellbeing that they enjoy today.

Agenda 21 is a voluntary, non-binding action plan for addressing sustainable development. ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, an organization that’s being vilified almost as much as Agenda 21 by Beck and the Tea Party, provides invaluable resources to cities and towns that are seeking to become more sustainable. What could be wrong with that?

The fate of that Kansas legislation

I don’t expect that House Bill 2366 in Kansas will make it into law. The bill was dealt somewhat of a setback when it came out in the national media that the chairman of the committee that drafted the bill, Dennis Hedke, is a consultant to the oil and gas industry. But even if this bill fails, the strong backlash against sustainability is clearly a cause for concern.

If such an extreme act is passed and signed into law, Kansas risks not only estranging itself from what should be the strongly conservative principle of sustainability, but it risks becoming a laughing stock of the nation. 

Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. In 2012 he founded the Resilient Design Institute. To keep up with Alex’s latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.


  1. user-723121 | | #1

    What next?
    As we lose animal species and wild places, Earth will become a miserable place to be.

  2. BruceAF | | #2

    With all due respect....
    to the good people of Kansas, I think there is a fundamental (no pun intended) issue with the mindset of the voters and politicians of this area....see this article from todays Boston Globe:

  3. user-1050854 | | #3

    Reality of Politics in Kansas
    It is not a good thing what I see happening with many of the political decisions in my home state of Kansas. From Tax Policy to support for Public Education and other significant issues change is here. Recent national news reports have discussed the Kansas Conservative Tax Experiment. (Cut the income, then let the cuts in expense fall as they may.

    Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, thinks the sequester was a positive step toward getting federal spending under control.

    You can read today's editorial regarding the position of our local congressman:

    You can read here about the ongoing odyssey of Agenda 21 and the local County Commission.

    Now you know the reason there is No Energy Code adopted in this area.

  4. Expert Member
    ARMANDO COBO | | #4

    Got lucky?
    Does it means that Greensburg, KS got lucky when they rebuilt their town with all kinds of assistance for the Feds, State and Local Governments?

  5. user-946029 | | #5

    Response to Armando
    They had "fortunate" timing, in that they were the first notable natural disaster after Katrina. The feds didn't want egg all over their face again, so they threw a bunch of resources at Greensburg. (This from my good friend Daniel Wallach of Greensburg Greentown.)

    But, as discussed in an article on Grist from Tuesday (, the residents of the town rolled up their sleeves and got to work on shaping their community's future. There were resources available, no question, but they were determined not to let their town die because of a massive tornado.

    I had the good fortune of visiting and helping that town just 2 months after the tornado came through. The destruction was nearly complete, and I say this after walking through parts of MS hardest hit by Katrina. But I can testify to the Greensburg residents' sense of resiliency and determination.


    What's happening in the KS legislature is not altogether different than the movements in NC & AZ to curtail energy efficiency. In the case of the two aforementioned states, they've got a political monopoly in the both chambers & the Governor are of the same party. It's like lifting up one end of a table, then setting a ball in the middle and hoping it rolls towards your hand.

  6. user-1087436 | | #6

    A sorry spectacle,
    when the bug-eyed rantings of a charlatan are taken seriously by a bunch of buffoons. 'Sustainability' is a word and an idea. How do these people think that they can ban an idea?

  7. JoeW519 | | #7

    An article in USNews and World Report (conservative, business oriented), itemized some of the results of a random telephone survey. Not surprisingly, attitudes clashed along party lines.

    38% agree that global warming does not exist and is a fraudulent conspiracy of the government.

    Surprisingly (to me) senior citizens were more accepting of science and agreed global warming exists. Young people (abetween 20-30) were more confinced of the conspiracy argument.

    It is important to note that some 7 or 8 % of those polled agree with the internet theory that a race of servpent space travelers landed and remained in a transformed state to control human governments and important positions.

    Actually that last position makes sense out of Congress, doesn't it?

    Concerning the U.N: similar fears and arguments were popular in the time of consideration of the League of Nations.

  8. JonathanTE | | #8

    Does that make insulation illegal?
    Given that the bill prohibits implementation of sustainable development, does that mean (if the bill became law) that when a state or local agency constructed a new building, they would be forbidden from insulating it? It really is remarkable.

  9. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #9

    Response to Jonathan Teller-Elsberg
    The logic is hard to fathom. I'm doing my best to try. But if it is illegal to use "public funds ... either directly or indirectly, to ... participate in or implement sustainable development," I guess that means that all development must be unsustainable, and it is the legal duty of all public officials to waste as much energy as possible and to kill endangered species whenever they see them. I think it also requires public officials to cut down all trees in the state as quickly as possible, and to eat all fish in Kansas rivers immediately. But I'm not sure.

  10. davidmeiland | | #10

    I just want to make sure I got my story straight here... did you mean "servent (sic) space travelers"... or is it "serpent"? I suspect the latter.

  11. JonathanTE | | #11

    Response to Martin's response to me
    Logic is logic and the law is the law. The definition of "sustainable development" they use is pretty standard and refers to future generations. That clearly means that not only must state and municipal buildings be wasteful (no insulation, no windows, and running both A/C and heat at full bore at all times), and not only must they be built from the most unsustainable resources (presumably constructed entirely of plastic, preferably PVC so that dioxin production will be maximized), but they must also be burned to the ground before the next generation can use them. That'll show those darn libruls!

  12. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #12

    On the upside...
    Kansas successfully rebuffed recent attempts to repeal the Renewable Portfolio Standard despite heavy funding from the coal & oil interests, and there's a good chance that this brain-dead bill will find it's way to the proper recycling bin too, unlike what happened with North Carolina's RPS.

    When NY, NJ, MA or CA starts dialing it back, THEN I'll be seriously worried, but the NC's backing out is at least somewhat troubling.

  13. Alex Wilson | | #13

    An obituary for Kansas
    A reader from Kansas just sent me a link to a great editorial that came out in the Hutchinson, Kansas newspaper back in March titled: "Kansas: 1861 - 2013." Here's a link to it:

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