Topeka Gov. Mark Parkinson on Monday sought to defend his actions in the long-running coal-fired power plant controversy that intensified last week with the departure of the state's top environmental official.
In a lengthy blog post, Parkinson said it didn't matter to him whether a permit is issued for the proposed 895-megawatt unit in southwestern Kansas.
“What matters to me is that we follow the law,” Parkinson said.
Last week, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby was ousted. Parkinson had said he wanted Bremby to leave KDHE to be director of a team helping the incoming administration of Gov.-elect Sam Brownback transition into office. Bremby declined to serve in that role and was out of a job.
Environmentalists questioned the timing of Parkinson's move because a decision on a permit for Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build the coal-burning plant was nearing Bremby's desk. Bremby made international headlines in 2007 when he denied Sunflower Electric a permit, citing the health and environmental effects of greenhouse gas emissions from what was then a proposal for two 700-megawatt plants.
Bremby's decision was supported by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. In 2009, Sebelius became secretary of the federal health and human service agency, which elevated then-Lt. Gov. Parkinson into the governor's job.
Parkinson immediately brokered a closed-door deal to allow Sunflower to seek a new permit for an 895-megawatt unit, in return for the Legislature's approval of renewable energy measures.
“The attractive part of the settlement to me was that the proponents of the plant agreed to drop their opposition to progressive energy laws,” Parkinson wrote Monday.
He said the settlement only guaranteed that Sunflower could apply for the plant and “KDHE would not judge its application by any regulations greater than those of the EPA.”
Environmentalists have complained that there has been pressure on KDHE to approve the permit before Jan. 2 when EPA installs tighter rules on greenhouse gas emissions.
Stephanie Cole, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Sierra Club, had said after Bremby's departure last week, “It's discouraging that Secretary Bremby was unable to oversee the work of KDHE without unwarranted obstruction from political and special interests.”
The removal of Bremby also brought sharp criticism from editorial writers statewide.
In his blog, Parkinson didn’t mention Bremby or his departure, but focused his statements on the permit process before KDHE.
Parkinson said whatever decision KDHE makes will upset one side in this controversy. “They will complain, but I assure you that any post-decision analysis will establish that KDHE reviewed this fairly and on the up and up,” he said.
Concerning Sunflower’s permit proposal, Parkinson said he has told the acting KDHE secretary, John Mitchell, “to neither artificially speed up the process, nor artificially slow it down.”