Topeka An environmental group has asked federal regulators “to play a more active role” in the permitting process for a coal-fired electric plant in southwest Kansas because the group says state officials are succumbing to political pressure from supporters of the project.
In a letter to the EPA, attorneys for the Sierra Club said they are concerned about the integrity of the permitting process because of a recent report that said state officials were putting the proposed plant on track to get its permit before new federal rules on greenhouse gas emissions take effect Jan. 2.
“Attempts to accelerate the permitting will adversely affect a thorough, unprejudiced and accurate review of the draft permit and public comments,” the letter from attorneys Todd True and Amanda Goodin said. The letter was sent to Karl Brooks, administrator of the EPA’s Region 7 office in Kansas City, Kan.
The letter references a report earlier this month by The Associated Press which outlined recent meetings between supporters of the project and the governor’s office, and statements from supporters to shorten a public comment period on the permit.
Sunflower Electric Power Corp. is seeking a permit for an 895-megawatt coal-burning plant near Holcomb in Finney County.
Environmentalists say a shorter comment period would indicate that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is trying to rush a decision on the permit.
“KDHE’s ability to provide a fair public process is at immediate risk from political pressure,” the letter states.
The Sierra Club also told the EPA that Sunflower’s partner, Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, is saying that it currently has no need for the new capacity from the plant.
On Jan. 2, new rules will take effect requiring new coal-fired plants to use the best technology available to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which most scientists say are causing global climate change.
Sunflower Electric’s effort to get a permit has been debated for years. In October 2007, KDHE Secretary Roderick Bremby denied a permit for two coal-fired plants because of concerns about climate change.
Gov. Mark Parkinson then made a deal that would allow an 895-megawatt plant once the Legislature approved several renewable energy initiatives, which it did.
Cindy Hertel, a spokeswoman for Sunflower Electric, said opponents are trying to delay the process, and that there will be ample time to review the permit. "The EPA has had input in the permitting process from the beginning," Hertel said. "We are confident that KDHE will issue a solid permit that will protect the health and environment of Kansas."