Coal plant under fire

Protesters push KDHE to reject project

Sierra Club representative Brandon Hearn, Olathe, holds a Sierra Club advertisement promoting wind energy, along with other protesters gathered for a news conference Wednesday at the Statehouse in Topeka. Representatives from the Sierra Club, Kansas Rural Center and other groups who are opposed to a proposed coal-fueled power plant in western Kansas urged the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to reject the plant.

Attorney Robert Eye, representing the Sierra Club, speaks at a news conference Wednesday at the Statehouse. the Sierra Club and other environmental groups oppose a proposed power plant in western Kansas that would rely on coal for fuel.

? A coalition Wednesday slammed the proposed coal-fueled electric plants in western Kansas, saying the project would hurt the environment and economy.

In a news conference on the steps of the Capitol, representatives of several groups urged Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby to reject the proposal.

The alliance of environmental, religious and health organizations announced it was buying full-page newspaper ads in western Kansas that criticize the project and tout wind energy.

“It’s important for these ads to run if only to let people know that there are alternatives,” said Bob Eye, an attorney representing environmental interests.

The comments were the latest in a battle over whether to allow two 700-megawatt coal-burning electric plants near Holcomb.

KDHE staff has recommended approval, but environmentalists are counting on Bremby to use his wide latitude under the law to reject the project. Bremby has said he will make a decision this month.

Under the proposal, one plant would be owned by Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. and Golden Spread Cooperative of Amarillo, Texas. The other unit would be owned by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association of Westminster, Colo. Most of the energy would be sold to out-of-state customers.

On Tuesday, legislative supporters of the plants conducted a hearing where they said the project exceeded all environmental regulations, was crucial to western Kansas’ economy, and that rejection would amount to discrimination against the region.

But on Wednesday, the coalition of groups sought to counter those arguments.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the plants will add to global warming and eventually lead to long-term drought in western Kansas, said Donald Worster, a Kansas University history professor and prize-winning author of “Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s.”

Worster couldn’t be at the rally, but his comments were read there. “So, to burn fossil fuels today to create a few jobs and company profits in the short term will mean endangering the farm economy of the whole region, and beyond,” he said.

Dan Nagengast, executive director of the Kansas Rural Center, said the coal plants would stifle the development of wind energy that has flourished in other states.

“By rejecting these coal plants we open the door to a much, much wider, widespread rural economy,” Nagengast said.

State Rep. Vaughn Flora, D-Topeka, said he was concerned that water rights now devoted to agricultural irrigation were being bought up to provide water to operate the plants.

“The electricity – most is going out of the state, so we are using our water to send electricity to Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas and I don’t know where else,” Vaughn said.

But project developers have argued that the plants would stimulate wind energy development by providing transmission lines to carry electricity to other areas of the country. And they say the plants would only use a portion of the purchased water rights.

The coalition opposing the coal-fired plants includes Concerned Citizens of Platte County, Earthjustice, Green Sanctuary Committee of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Kansas Rural Center, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, Sustainable Sanctuary Coalition of Kansas City, Mo., True Blue Women and 2020 Vision.