Sunflower Electric lawsuit ( .PDF )
Topeka Claiming its civil rights have been violated, Sunflower Electric Power Corp. wants a federal court to overturn decisions by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and clear the way for construction of two coal-powered electric plants in southwest Kansas.
In a lawsuit filed in Kansas City, Kan., Hays-based Sunflower Electric accused Sebelius, Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson and Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby of trying to advance their political aspirations by rejecting Sunflower’s permits for the coal-burning plants near its existing facility in Holcomb.
The officials want to “further their individual political fortunes by catering to the environmental lobby that opposes the Holcomb Expansion Project and to increase their chances of being elected or appointed to some state or national office, all at the expense of Sunflower’s constitutional rights and the rule of law in Kansas,” Sunflower’s lawsuit claims.
Sunflower is seeking a court order that would prohibit the Sebelius administration from blocking the $3.6 billion project. No hearing date has been set before U.S. District Court Judge Eric Melgren.
The company claims Sebelius’ rejection of the plants based on carbon dioxide emissions and global warming was “nothing more than a pretext” and violated the constitutional requirement of equal protection.
“Indeed, since defendants denied Sunflower a permit, they have granted hundreds of permits to other CO2 emitters and continue to allow pre-existing similarly situated CO2 emitters to operate freely,” the lawsuit states.
Sebelius said she hadn’t seen the lawsuit, and declined to comment on it. She was headed to Beverly Hills, Calif., to co-chair a meeting of worldwide officials on global warming. The meeting was set up by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Sebelius has opposed the plants, citing the project’s annual emission of 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, and the fact that the project would mostly serve out-of-state customers.
Sunflower has already been fighting to gain the permits through an administrative appeals process, the state court system and the Legislature.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers approved bills requiring construction of the plants, but Sebelius vetoed the measures and supporters of the plants came up just short of gaining the necessary two-thirds majorities to overturn the governor.
In the lawsuit, Sunflower warned that if it doesn’t obtain the permits to construct the plants soon “the cost of construction may well increase to the point that the project cannot be financed at all.”
If there were no project, Sunflower argued, its customers would suffer.
“In denying the air permit, the administration has discriminated against 400,000 Kansans and over 1.5 million citizens from other states who will be forced to pay the price of this decision for decades to come through higher electric rates,” Earl Watkins, Sunflower’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We believe we have an obligation to act on behalf of the people we serve and to correct this wrong.”
Bruce Niles, director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, defended Sebelius’ actions.
“It is clear that with this lawsuit, the coal industry hopes to take away states’ rights to take action on global warming,” Niles said. “The writing is on the wall. Clean energy is where the future of America is, and that clean energy can be the engine of our economic and climate recovery. States should be free to pursue that clean energy future, and not be bullied for doing so.”
In a sworn statement, Watkins said the company has already spent $1.4 million in fees to lawyers and consultants to prepare for the permits and $1.1 million in legal fees and expenses to appeal the denial of the permits.
Sunflower said it filed the lawsuit in Kansas City, Kan., because that was more convenient for its law firm, which is based in Kansas City, Mo.