Former KDHE secretary Rod Bremby says he did not resign

Bremby says ‘abuses’ occurred in permit process

Former Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby talked in public for the first time since being removed from office in November. He was speaking to students at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

Rod Bremby said he was shocked when Gov. Mark Parkinson removed him as secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

That decision came back in November and after Bremby said he was asked to resign as head of the KDHE to coordinate the cabinet transition from Parkinson’s administration to that of incoming Gov. Sam Brownback. While Bremby said he was happy to help with the transition, he wasn’t willing to leave his office to do so.

On Thursday in his first public appearance since leaving office, Bremby quickly cleared the air about his departure.

“I did not resign. I did not step down. I did not quit. I was removed, and you can label that however you wish,” Bremby told a crowd at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

Bremby said he never had the opportunity to ask the governor why he was removed.

“Inside, I think I know what the issue is. But because my speculation or my beliefs could impact someone else’s character, I am reluctant to do that,” he said.

On Nov. 2, Bremby was placed on administrative leave, but continued to be on the state payroll.

“That was not my solution, but that was the solution around severance,” he said.

Bremby, who lives in Lawrence, spent much of the hour-and-half-long talk defending his most controversial decision during his nearly eight years as secretary. In 2007, he denied Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s permit to build a coal-fired power plant in western Kansas.

Bremby’s decision on the $2.8 billion plant in Holcomb was supported by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

In 2009, Parkinson became governor and crafted a deal to allow for the project in exchange for reducing the plant down from two 700-megawatt plants and getting legislators to approve renewable-energy legislation.

Sunflower re-entered the permit process. After Bremby’s departure, replacement John Mitchell approved a permit for a proposed 895-megawatt coal-burning power plant, just before new federal regulations on greenhouse gases went into effect in January.

All Bremby would say Thursday about the governor’s agreement with Sunflower was that he passed his advice onto the governor and has not commented on the decision publicly. He said he didn’t have any communication with the governor regarding the latest permit. However, Bremby was willing to talk about the politics involved in the decision.

“The process was not a benign, pristine, routine bureaucratic process. Unfortunately, there were abuses,” Bremby said.

“If you look at the influence of lobbying dollars in this process, it is staggering. If we are to protect this exercise, this way of governing ourselves, things like this can’t happen,” he said.

At the time of his decision, Bremby denied the power plant’s application because of the “contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health.”

It was a decision that was hailed by environmentalists across the country.

During his talk Thursday, Bremby defended his legal right to deny the permit and the science that supports climate change.

For those on either side of the coal-fire power plant debate, Bremby said they should search for areas where they agree and then go from there. Kansans need to start thinking collectively about how to be sustainable.

“I don’t think we have the luxury of dismissing people with disparate opinions,” Bremby said. “But I do think it is going to take a lot more work and a lot more effort than I know how to start.”

While Bremby said he loved serving Kansas as KDHE secretary, he is ready to move on. As for what’s next, Bremby said he doesn’t know.