Archive for Friday, March 9, 2007

Document may delay power plant

Legal analysis says utility upgrades may violate clean-air rules

March 9, 2007


— A Kansas City, Kan., utility may be forced to delay construction of a new power plant after a confidential document identifying possible violations of clean-air laws in its other power plants appeared in two Kansas City newspapers.

The document, published by The Kansas City Star and a weekly newspaper, The Pitch, was a legal analysis prepared by a lawyer in 2004 for the Board of Public Utilities of Kansas City, Kan. It showed that 15 upgrades at the utility's power plants may have violated federal clean-air rules.

Don Gray, the utility's general manager, said it could be forced to spend millions on anti-pollution equipment and other upgrades, possibly delaying plans to build a $600 million to $700 million power plant by 2012.

"It's going to really put a strain on finding funding for everything," Gray said.

After the document was published online, the utility fought to have the analysis suppressed. An appeals court overturned a circuit judge's decision, ruling that banning publication of the analysis violated a constitutional prohibition on prior restraint of publications.

The document was prepared after the utility learned that the Environmental Protection Agency had asked four other utilities in the region for records on power plant upgrades.

The liability analysis considered 73 projects that were at risk of penalties by the EPA and concluded that 15 were "probably not defensible" and 15 were "questionable."

Marc Conklin, the utility's personnel director, said the liability analysis was a way to gauge what the EPA would find if it examined the plants.

"It's basically saying, in a worst-case scenario, here's what the EPA may tell you," Conklin said.

The liability analysis said the utility could be subject to thousands of dollars in fines. It also said that the utility had the option to approach the EPA and reach a settlement or risk waiting for the EPA to initiate action.

Conklin said the utility did not take its findings to the EPA because it eventually decided the federal agency would not ask for them.

Since the document was sent anonymously to The Star last week, Conklin said the utility's attorneys have been discussing the situation with EPA officials. He added that a meeting is expected.

The EPA's regional headquarters in Kansas City, Kan., issued a brief statement Wednesday, saying it "investigates all evidence of noncompliance," without directly mentioning the utility.

At least three of the utility's board members, including board President Mary Gonzales, said they were never made aware of the analysis. But Conklin said that is untrue.

"I can tell you the board was made aware of the issue," he said.


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