Garden City Finney County commissioners have hired a legal team to help them decide whether to file a lawsuit over the denial of a coal-plant permit.
They believe that Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby had no legal basis to deny Sunflower Electric Power Corp.'s air-quality permit for the $3.6 billion project in Holcomb.
Last month, Bremby denied a permit sought by Sunflower to build two, 700-megawatt coal-fired power plants, over concerns that they would harm the state's health and environment by emitting 11 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Many scientists see CO2 as a major contributor to global warming.
Hays-based Sunflower officials have filed an appeal with the Department of Health and Environment asking Bremby to reverse his decision and to hold public hearings for more discussion. Sunflower's partners in the project are Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. of Westminster, Colo., and Golden Spread Electric Cooperative, in Amarillo, Texas.
Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to retain the Kansas City, Mo., law firm of Stinson, Morrison and Hecker LLP to advise them whether to take legal action. The firm would file the lawsuit if the county is found to have legal standing on the issue.
Legal action against the Department of Health and Environment must be filed within 30 days, which is Sunday.
County Commissioner Cliff Mayo said the permit denial was a political decision and needs to be identified as such.
Other county officials are concerned that Bremby's decision could have far-reaching effects on future energy policy and the business climate for the state and region. The project was expected to create several thousand construction jobs while the plants were built next to an existing, 360-megawatt coal-fired plant.
"Clearly, Finney County will be affected by the impact on the tax base, which we think gives us standing," County Administrator Pete Olson said. "What do you do if you can't have coal-based power plants?"
The meeting Monday included several local government agencies, economic development officials and state legislators.
Sunflower had planned to build a bioenergy center to capture all but 3.6 million tons of those emissions and use the CO2 to grow algae that could be converted to fuel. Bremby said nothing in its permit application would have guaranteed the center's construction, and environmentalists were skeptical that the technology could work on an industrial scale.