Kansas Supreme Court puts coal-plant cases on hold

? The state’s highest court has put on hold indefinitely its review of a regulator’s decision blocking two coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas.

The Supreme Court plans to wait until legal challenges to the decision are considered first in district court and in administrative hearings involving the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Sunflower Electric Power Corp. wants to build the two plants outside Holcomb, in Finney County. It applied for an air-quality permit from KDHE, but Secretary Rod Bremby rejected it in October.

Bremby’s decision led to six separate legal challenges, three of which are before the Supreme Court.

Legislators also have passed two bills to clear the way for the plants’ construction, but Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has vetoed them. Overriding her latest veto last week will be a key issue for legislators when they return Wednesday from their annual spring break.

“I think that what the court’s saying is that we have to address it here,” House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, an Ingalls Republican, who strongly supports Sunflower’s project, said Friday.

Spokesman Steve Miller said Sunflower wouldn’t comment about the Supreme Court’s action until its attorneys had a chance to review its order.

The court issued a single-page order Thursday, signed by Chief Justice Kay McFarland. The court directed parties involved in the cases to prepare regular progress reports on administrative hearings and district court cases, with the first one due June 2.

In denying Sunflower’s permit, Bremby cited the two plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions of up to 11 million tons a year. He said the state couldn’t ignore the dangers of global warming, which many scientists link to man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

But critics believe Bremby overstepped his authority and note that Kansas never has had any written rules on CO2. Also, the project enjoys bipartisan legislative support because many lawmakers view it as economic development, with Sunflower expecting to spend at least $3.6 billion.

After Bremby’s decision, Sunflower filed an administrative appeal with the Department of Administration, hoping to force him to reconsider.

Sunflower also filed a lawsuit in Finney County District Court. A second lawsuit was filed in district court by one of Sunflower’s partners, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc., of Westminster, Colo. Both cases are pending, with no hearings scheduled.

In addition, Sunflower and Tri-State filed separate appeals with the state Court of Appeals. A third appeal was filed by the Finney County Commission and the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce.

In November, the Supreme Court took those three appeals from the Court of Appeals, something it frequently does when a case is likely to end up before it.