Archive for Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Failed duty

An email trail reveals a stunning betrayal of the public trust by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

June 21, 2011


This is not how government is supposed to work.

An email trail examined by a Kansas City newspaper reveals a disturbingly cozy relationship between the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Sunflower Electric Power Corp., which was seeking a KDHE permit to build a coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas. After several years of contentious dealings during which a permit for the plant was denied several times, it appears that, during the closing days of Gov. Mark Parkinson’s term, elements of the permit process were virtually turned over to Sunflower officials.

Key among those was KDHE’s decision to simply forward public comments about the power plant to Sunflower officials who then supplied responses. In many cases, those answers, or something very much like them were simply passed along in a way that made them appear to be unbiased responses that were researched and supplied by KDHE.

According to the news report, KDHE received almost 6,000 comments from various experts and members of the public concerning the power plant project. Although it had taken KDHE staff about 10 months to review and respond to almost 800 public comments it received in 2007, the department was able to deal with the 6,000 comments in about seven weeks.

It was no secret that this project was on the fast track after Parkinson bartered a deal in May 2009 that would allow one coal-fired plant to be built. Sunflower submitted a new permit application in January 2010. The permit still was under review when KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby was dismissed from his post on Nov. 2, 2010. The next month, acting KDHE Secretary John Mitchell approved the permit.

During that seven weeks, the emails, obtained through a public records request, show that KDHE officials boiled the 6,000 comments down to about 275 questions, which it sent to Sunflower to obtain written responses. The emails also show instances where KDHE staff members asked Sunflower officials whether the department should even respond to some comments. The relationship was so tight that a Sunflower employee was sent to Topeka to help set up a computer program to organize the public comments for KDHE and Sunflower.

What the emails reveal is a relationship that is highly inappropriate for a state agency and a company it has the duty to regulate. It wouldn’t be unusual for KDHE to seek input or technical information from Sunflower, but to allow the utility to pick the questions it will address and then supply the answers was, in Bremby’s words, “a total abdication of responsibility.”

The conduct of KDHE in this matter transcends any judgment on the merits of the Sunflower application. Whether or not they believe the southwest power plant should be built, Kansans should be extremely concerned by the process by which that permit was approved. KDHE’s charge was to make an independent, unbiased appraisal of the power plant project and the various issues raised in public comments about the permit.

The trail of email officials left behind indicates they failed miserably in that task.


Paul Decelles 7 years ago

Do you honestly think that Brownback would behave any differently?

gkerr 7 years ago

Paul Decelles,

I thought Governor Parkinson was a proud member of the Democrat party. Right? Gkerr

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

There is one new coal fired plant being built and put online in China every single week of the year. I have to wonder how much difference one more being put online in Kansas will make, considering that we live on the same planet.

Cai 7 years ago

One may not make a difference by itself, but the line has to start somewhere.

I haven't done enough research to determine anything about this particular plant, but in general, using the excuse that 'everyone else does it' or 'one more won't make that big of a difference' is a horrible, horrible reason for anything.

deec 7 years ago

Draining the aquifer is a good reason not to build this particular plant. We can survive without electricity. Water, not so much.

myvotecounts 7 years ago

What about the relationships between environmental groups and Bremby and his staff during that administration's attempt to stop the plant at all costs, including making up legal authority that didn't exist? I'd like to see an investigative news article on how those interest groups worked together.

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

Environmental groups work to protect the public health and safety. The sort of corruption described here profits the few at the expense of the public. So, even if your assumption is true, there is a big difference in the acts.

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

So above is an example of how private business interests corrupt government in order to further their own selfish interests. Please provide examples of manufactured environmental "false flags" that have been used to achieve the ends of whatever your final sentence above means.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

So, does that mean you prefer that which is unsustainable? You know, like your mental health?

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

Do you also mean words like: competition, or efficiency, or job creation, or marketplace, etc..

Those are the emotional words used by the corrupt to cover and justify their actions and selfish motives.

In any event, you have failed to address my question. Did you not understand, or are you unable to find such examples?

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

This link is to an investment fund that is focused on environmentally responsible investing. Not sure how that addresses my inquiry about false flags and onerous government controls of the populace.

Their investing strategy is summarized:

"Numerous studies show that most of a company's value is determined by its long-run performance, and in our view a short-term orientation has significant negative repercussions for businesses and the global economy. If businesses are forgoing value-creating investments to manage short-term earnings, this will damage their long-term prospects. A short-term perspective hinders innovation and research and development, diminishes investment in human capital, encourages financial gymnastics and discourages leadership. We believe outperformance requires a long-term outlook. Central to our investment philosophy is the explicit recognition that sustainability factors directly affect long-term business profitability. The interests of shareholders, over time, will be best served by companies that maximize their financial performance by strategically managing their economic, social and environmental performance."

I agree with the approach and philosophy.

Again, I am interested in seeing some proof of the claim that evironmental scare tactics are being used to warp good public policy in the way exhibited by selfish business interests in the article above.

tomatogrower 7 years ago

So, PaladKik, can we put a chemical waste dump in your backyard? You wouldn't want to appear "emotionally unstable".

Crazy_Larry 7 years ago

Anti-Abortion groups work to create false flags that infulence emotionally unstable people to become distressed...


Scott Drummond 7 years ago

Death panels also seems a tad emotional.

SDTPlant 7 years ago

Aw, they were just working to prepare for the incoming administration. The one we have now.

gkerr 7 years ago

Scott3460, Don't be naive. Environmental groups tend to be playpens for progressive causes and could care less about the public good as long as evil business interests are tied in knots. For decades now environmental groups on average have been detrimental to a free and prosperous America.

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

Are opinions based on trite generalities naive?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

"This is not how government is supposed to work."

This is precisely how today's Republican Party thinks it should work-- i.e., government exists solely to serve the needs of the wealthy and the corporations they own.

Sadly, under DINO Parkinson, that's precisely how the KDHE operated.

Joe Hyde 7 years ago

Every KDHE employee who knowingly and deliberately participated in this betrayal of the public trust should be fired or jailed. And I'm not talking about sometime next year, but right now.

They were working for Sunflower Electric same as if they were on that company's payroll, all the while lying to Kansas citizens by using their positions within a state agency to perpetrate a conflict of interest, one that threatens long term our state's western zone environment and the public health.

Identify the participants then fire or jail them.

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

The right wingers currently in charge of these agencies will never do any such thing.

If we wish a government which functions competently and ethically, we, as a populace, will need to elect to state government individuals who do not hold a reflexive opinion that all government is bad and an intention to prove their point.

tolawdjk 7 years ago

I dentify them yourself. I'm sure the permit is out there with a signiture on it. Those engineers have managers. KDHE's contact info is available on their website.

I'm sure you will find it impossible to personally go after individuals doing the public work of the state.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Time for the Feds to intervene.

The decision should be null and void!

Heads should roll at Sunflower.

tolawdjk 7 years ago

Why should heads roll at Sunflower? Lapse of ethics? What law did they violate? A state agency asked them for assistance and they provided it.

Why should the decision be null and void? Is the permit legally flawed? Did KDHE forget to address some aspect of Kansas Administrative Regulations or Statute in issuing the permit?

Ethically, this thing stinks. At the very least it smacks of basic junior high plagerism. But legally? KDHE stuck the permit out for public comment, recieved comments, and answered comments. By the letter of their responsibility, I think most judges would say they met the requirements.

How are the Feds going to intervene? Kansas is a State Implementation Plan approved program. As long as the permit was issued under the requirements of the approved program, EPA isn't going to find justification of issue a stop work order.

The worst I could see happening is if the signing engineer was a licensed PE (and he/she probably was) they might be brought up on ethical charges and could potentially lose their license. And even that is a stretch.

gkerr 7 years ago

We need more clean coal powered plants in Kansas. Electrical power is a good thing not an evil. Environmentalists are wounding American enterprise while in some cases pushing destructive delusions like Anthropogenic global warming and Cap and trade taxes to empower more progressive nightmares like restriction of Arctic and Off shore drilling in U.S. While subsidizing same in Brazil ( Perhaps because socialist America Hater and Obama supporter George Soros has a vested interest in the Brazillian project?).

This Democrat Administration is a regime of grifters, Bush was a bit better, but, that is still a condemnation of the Bush years. The system is corrupt and so many politicians are compromised including Republicans and Democrats alike. Special interest money rules and that includes atavistic nihilist's like the radical greens who would rather destroy than see productive development of natural resources succeed. Radical environmentalism is a shade different from the cult of radical nihilists who destroy and tear down to destroy and tear down, but make no mistake about it Radical greens worship on the altar of hatred of successful development of wealth and resources to create jobs and human capital to increase the wealth of nations. Good for Kansas in pushing ahead to develop resources and increase the energy to produce new enterprise within the state. Gkerr

SageOnTheHudson 7 years ago

"'Being cozy with business is not necessarily bad,' said Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican. 'Kansas needs to be open for business. We don’t have mountains. We don’t have oceans. If we don’t allow for people to make it easy to make a profit in Kansas, there really is no reason to come here'" -- Rep. Scott Schwab (Olathe).

That's very true, Mr Schwab; Kansas has only two things of value: farmland and people. If that land and water are fouled by the emissions from coal-fired power plants, the crops on which Kansas's economy depends will be adulterated and find fewer markets in which farmers can sell them.

That other asset, the people of Kansas, will consume the bulk of those filthy crops, whose lead content will devastate the nervous systems of the state's children. Many parents will be unable to afford medical treatment for their affected children because the unemployment rate will increase, and the tax base will shrink because there will be fewer gainfully employed Kansans paying taxes.

Keep Kansas "open for business?" What kind of business are you referring to, Mr Schwab, the kind that built this nation's economy, or the kind that's passed under the table to crooked politicians by Big Business?

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