Corp. cites unfairness in denial of coal plants

Company seeks reversal based on others being allowed to emit CO2

? The recent decision by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ administration to reject two coal-burning electric plants was based on health and environmental concerns about carbon dioxide emissions.

So, what about existing plants, including one in Lawrence, that are emitting millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere?

Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby, who denied the two western Kansas plants, says he has no interest in setting definite regulations.

Instead, Bremby said, “KDHE will work to engage various industries and stakeholders to establish goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and strategies to achieve them.”

But Sunflower Electric Power Corp. asks why its plants can be rejected and existing plants remain untouched.

“In our view, it’s fundamentally unfair to attempt to change these rules in the middle of the game,” said Earl Watkins, Sunflower’s president and chief executive officer.

Sunflower Electric has filed a petition seeking to overturn the decision by KDHE to deny permits for the $3.6 billion plants near Holcomb.

Leaders of the Hays-based company said the decision by Bremby was “unconstitutional, unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.”

Among its complaints, Sunflower claims that prohibiting its plants because of CO2 emissions while allowing CO2 emissions from existing plants is an infringement on the company’s right to equal treatment.

One of those CO2 producing plants is Westar Energy’s Lawrence Energy Center.

The plant was ranked this year by an environmental group as the 12th worst in the nation in “dirty kilowatts” for emitting 4.18 million tons of carbon dioxide while producing 3.26 million megawatt hours of electricity in 2006.

The Sunflower plants would have emitted about 11 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is less than the No. 1 emitter in the state, the Jeffrey Energy Center near St. Marys with 18.1 million tons of CO2 per year.

About 75 percent of the energy produced statewide is from coal, putting Kansas in the top 10 states in utilities’ carbon dioxide emissions per person.

But carbon dioxide isn’t regulated on the national or state level, although momentum is picking up in Congress to start restricting emissions.

“We’re like every other utility and business in the United States,” said Bill Eastman, director of environmental services for Westar. “We are watching the cards as they are played and trying to understand what is going on.”

A hearing officer will consider the Sunflower denial and make a recommendation to Bremby, who will then decide again on the matter.

The petition for reconsideration of the decision is a required step before the ruling can be challenged in court.

Bremby has defended his decision as within his general authority to protect the health of Kansans and the environment.

But supporters of Sunflower’s plants say Bremby’s decision could have far-reaching effects.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, issued a statement that said: “The Kansas economy relies on several key industries, including cattle, oil and gas, aviation, construction, all of which produce CO2. Does the governor and her administration intend to regulate the CO2 output of those industries as well? We hope not.”