Sierra Club files power plant suit

An environmental group Monday filed a lawsuit against the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, demanding that the department have a formal hearing on a controversial coal-fired power plant near Holcomb.

The Sierra Club, which filed the suit in Shawnee County District Court, said it asked for a “quasi-judicial hearing” in February so it could challenge parts of Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s application for a permit to add three 700-megawatt units to its existing 350-megawatt plant.

It says that request was denied in a March 2 letter from the department.

Hays-based Sunflower Electric wants the department to declare that the project would meet all applicable standards for controlling air pollution. KDHE still is reviewing hundreds of pages of comments about the project, spokesman Joe Blubaugh said.

He said the department’s legal staff wasn’t available to comment on the lawsuit.

Sierra Club members claim the plant will worsen air pollution in the region while the company plans to sell the majority of the plant’s generated energy to utilities outside the state.

In December, attorneys general in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin wrote a letter to state officials saying Sunflower’s project would undermine their states’ efforts to control emissions of greenhouse gases.

Nick Persampieri, an attorney representing the Sierra Club on behalf of Washington-based Earthjustice, said the department had a series of public hearings on the Sunflower plant but they were aimed at gathering comments, not debating facts in the application.

The Lawrence City Commission voted 3-2 in November to submit a formal comment letter to KDHE opposing the issuance of permits for the plant.