Kansas City, Mo. A new study compiled for a group that opposes the proposed Sunflower coal plant in southwest Kansas questions claims that the coal plant will be the cleanest of its kind in the country.
The study was done by MSB Energy Associates and the Natural Resources Defense Council for Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy, a nonprofit organization created to oppose Sunflower Electric Power Corp.'s plans to build in Finney County.
Supporters of the proposed plant told The Kansas City Star it will be the cleanest coal plant in the country. But the new study questioned that promise after comparing emissions of four pollutants from the almost 700 coal-fired generating units that have the same emission levels listed in the Sunflower permit, the newspaper reported.
"Claims that this plant would rank as 'clean' or 'cleanest' either ignored existing facts and data or were made to intentionally mislead the public," said Scott Allegrucci, executive director of Great Plains Alliance.
The report, which was expected to be released Thursday, found that at least 669 coal-fired generating units have lower emissions of particulate matter than the current Sunflower permit allows and at least 321 coal-fired generating units have lower emissions of mercury than the Sunflower permit allows.
Sunflower officials have said their mission is to supply their 400,000 members with energy at the lowest possible cost while protecting the environment.
The state issued an air-quality permit in December to allow Sunflower to move forward with the $2.8 billion project, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has questioned parts of that permit.
The EPA told Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials last week that it considers the permit too lax in its limits on emissions of two pollutants, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. EPA's regional administrator said he wants a "dialogue" with the state about the issue.
KDHE said in a statement that it is standing by its permit and won't comment further because the Sierra Club has asked the state Court of Appeals to overturn the permit, and the case is still pending.
Meanwhile, Sunflower spokeswoman Cindy Hertel said the company believes the KDHE permit complied with federal and state air quality laws and added that the utility encourages discussions between federal and state officials to resolve any issues.
The permit from KDHE allows the Hays-based Sunflower to break ground on the plant at Holcomb, possibly this year. Construction had been halted for almost two years after KDHE Secretary Roderick Bremby denied the permit, siting health concerns from greenhouse gases.
A settlement agreement allowed the permitting process to begin again in 2009. Bremby was pushed out of office in November by then Gov. Mark Parkinson. A month later, John Mitchell, who replaced Bremby as acting secretary, approved the permit.
Bremby told The Star that he does not know if he was pushed out of office because he blocked the proposed coal plant.
"There was no rationale given," Bremby said. "There was no conversation about the permit or any of that. I have not had a chance to visit with Mark, so I'll just wonder a while and leave it where it is."
Parkinson, who left office in January, has denied that Bremby's departure was linked to the coal plant project.