Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius today will tell a national audience about the need for clean energy, but environmentalists say she is ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in her own state.
That would be the proposed Sunflower project - twin 700-megawatt coal-burning plants that if approved on her watch would be built near Holcomb in western Kansas.
"If she approves those plants, obviously there is a contradiction here," said Craig Volland, a spokesman for the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is considering a permit from groups fronted by Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build the units.
Environmentalists and the attorneys general of eight states oppose the proposal, saying emissions from the plants, including carbon dioxide, sulfur and mercury, will contribute to global climate change and hurt Kansans' health.
They also point out that nearly 90 percent of the power generated will be sold to out-of-state customers. Lawrence environmentalists Sarah and Ray Dean filed a lawsuit saying that KDHE needs to impose restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal.
A decision on the permit is expected this year.
Today, Sebelius joins Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in Washington, D.C., to tout a governors' task force report calling for the transition to an economy based on renewable energy. The two will conduct a news conference at the National Press Club.
Volland said Sebelius can't have it both ways - recommending renewable energy sources and possibly allowing construction of a huge carbon-fired project in Kansas.
Sebelius' staff says the permit decision is in the hands of KDHE.
But Volland says KDHE is headed by a Sebelius appointee, Secretary Rod Bremby. And, he said, Sebelius has broad authority under state and federal law to act in what she believes is the best interest of Kansas.
"If she really wants to, she could deny those permits and has the authority to do it," Volland said.
Last year, Sebelius indicated she was for the proposed plants, saying if they weren't built in Kansas they'd be built in a neighboring state. "It's very difficult within the borders of Kansas to control greenhouse gases and global warming," she had said.
But this month, she said she opposed the project because the energy would be sold outside Kansas, while Kansans would suffer the health risks from increased pollution.
Steve Miller, a spokesman for Sunflower, declined to respond to Sebelius' recent comments, although he said the governor has in the past said that she wanted to make Kansas an energy exporter.
"This project would help achieve that," Miller said.
He said coal is an inexpensive energy source that must be considered when trying to keep up with consumer demand. He said the proposed facility near Holcomb would be the cleanest coal-burning plants in the nation.
He said although most of the energy from the plants would be exported, he questioned why that was a problem because much of the Kansas economy relies on exporting products.