Topeka A utility hopes a district court hearing today will bring it closer to building two coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas despite a state regulator's concerns about global warming.
The issue for Judge Philip Vieux in Finney County is whether to dismiss lawsuits by Sunflower Electric Power Corp., based in Hays, and a Colorado partner, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc., against the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Secretary Rod Bremby.
Sunflower wants to build the two coal-fired plants outside Holcomb, in Finney County. But in October, Bremby denied the utility an air-quality permit, citing the plants' potential carbon dioxide emissions. Many scientists link such man-made greenhouse gases to climate change.
Sunflower and Tri-State aren't fighting KDHE's attempt to dismiss their legal challenges, Sunflower spokesman Steve Miller said Monday. He said disposing of those cases would allow other legal challenges of Bremby's decision to move forward.
Bremby's decision inspired six separate legal challenges, including the two before Vieux in Finney County. Miller said the ultimate goal is to get a definitive ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court.
"The concern we have is time. Time is not with us," Miller said. "We want to get to the finish line."
Sunflower contends Bremby exceeded his legal authority as secretary by rejecting its permit over CO2. The state doesn't have any law or administrative regulation setting emissions standards.
Bremby argues that state law gives him broad authority to protect the public health and environment, and the state can't ignore the threat to both posed by global warming. KDHE Spokesman Mike Heideman said Monday that the secretary still views his decision as appropriate.
Sunflower's project, at an estimated cost of $3.6 billion, has bipartisan support from legislators because many of them view it as economic development. About 86 percent of the new power initially would go to Tri-State and another partner, Golden Spread Electric Cooperative, of Amarillo, Texas.
The Republican-controlled Legislature attempted this year to enact a law overturning Bremby's decision, but Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed three bills.
Three of the legal challenges to Bremby's decision are before the Supreme Court. One was filed by Sunflower, another by Tri-State and a third by the Finney County Commission and Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce.
But the Supreme Court said in April that none of those cases would move forward until the remaining three were resolved first.
Those three challenges are the two cases before Vieux, which he consolidated, and Sunflower's attempt to get Bremby to reconsider his decision in an administrative appeal.
Miller said that if the two district court cases are dismissed, the administrative appeal can move forward. Once that issue has been resolved, the Supreme Court will hear the pending cases.