Coal plants spark battle of letters

? It was “open letter” season Thursday as officials fired off warring words over the two proposed coal-fired plants in western Kansas.

The head of Sunflower Electric Power Corp. called on Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to reverse her administration’s rejection of the plants – and apologize.

The letter from Earl Watkins, president and chief executive of Sunflower Electric, was in response to the Oct. 18 denial by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment of the plants near Holcomb, and to remarks made by Sebelius last week in an “open letter” to Kansans.

“Governor, I ask you to apologize for your challenge of our moral fiber and to reverse your decision,” Watkins said.

KDHE Secretary Roderick Bremby denied the permits, citing concerns about the health effects of coal-produced carbon dioxide emissions.

Several days later, Sebelius wrote that she supported the decision for economic and environmental reasons.

She said denial of the permits would “uphold our moral obligation to be good stewards of this beautiful land.”

Watkins said that Hays-based Sunflower has been a good steward. The proposed plants would have been among the cleanest coal-fired plants in the nation, and Sunflower had worked aggressively to address environmental concerns, he said.

He said it was unfair for Sebelius “to play the ‘moral’ card” because she promotes wind energy, which some see as harmful to landscapes, birds and habitats.

In response to Watkins’ letter, Sebelius’ office said that she would review it “carefully” but that it won’t affect her support of Bremby’s order.

In addition, Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said, “The moral obligation she has referenced is her own moral obligation to protect the people and environment of our state.”

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, also have weighed in with an “open letter” critical of the Sebelius administration’s decision on the coal plants.

The two legislators said Sunflower’s proposal met all environmental standards and noted that carbon dioxide emissions are unregulated on the state and federal level.

“The governor’s public position and her administration’s decision are misleading and misguided,” they said.

And they said the project would have actually promoted development of renewable energy with the addition of transmission lines that could have been used to move wind-generated power.