KDHE secretary issues carbon dioxide guidelines relating to power plant permits

? Kansas’ top environmental official, backed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, on Monday issued an “interim guidance document” that said only proposed coal-burning electric power plants will face restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions in the state permitting process.

New proposals for power plants will need to include carbon dioxide reductions and offsets like wind and solar power, said Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby.

Sebelius quickly issued a statement supporting Bremby. “Now is not the time for new coal plants in Kansas,” she said.

Both she and Bremby said the new policy set the record straight that, absent federal action, the only permits for which KDHE will take CO2 into account are for new power plants.

“For the past year we’ve seen legislators, lobbyists and even the Chamber of Commerce run a fear campaign, telling businesses they’re in jeopardy because KDHE denied one single permit,” Sebelius said.

Sebelius was referring to when Bremby in 2007 denied two 700-megawatt coal-burning electric power plants in southwestern Kansas, citing the project’s emission of climate-changing carbon dioxide.

Supporters of the plants have long complained that Bremby’s decision was unfair because CO2 emissions are not regulated and that Bremby did not establish any regulations on existing coal-fired plants.

Last year, Kansas lawmakers passed three bills to overturn Bremby’s action but they were all vetoed by Sebelius. Developers of the project, Sunflower Electric Power Corp., have challenged Bremby’s decision in federal and state courts, and are back before the Legislature seeking assistance.

But on Monday, Bremby said the new interim policy will ease the transition that may come under President Barack Obama to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

“KDHE has approved thousands of permits, allowing new and existing companies to prosper in Kansas,” Bremby said. “But with the new presidential administration, and imminent action from the EPA on the horizon, we know that there will be new federal guidelines concerning CO2.

“In the meantime, we now have an interim guidance document that clarifies for Kansas businesses what is expected of them at the state level. By taking action today, we’ll be better off tomorrow,” he said.

When told of Bremby’s action, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said he would oppose such guidelines.

Morris, an ardent supporter of the proposed power plants near Holcomb, said since CO2 guidelines were not in a state statute it didn’t seem that Bremby could just establish them. And he said it wasn’t fair that the proposed Sunflower plants, which would be cleaner burning than older, existing ones, should be put on hold and face tougher scrutiny.

“I have a dim view of that,” he said.

KDHE said it was focusing on electricity-generating facilities because they account for more greenhouse gas emissions, 34 percent, than any other sector. Decisions on new permits will have long-lasting consequences, Bremby said, because the plants typically last 30 to 50 years.