You might call it stretching the truth or misrepresenting the facts, but many would simply call it a lie.
The regional administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency was a bit more polite, saying last week that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment had “incorrectly informed the court” in written arguments last month to the Kansas Supreme Court.
The court filing was made in connection with the ongoing dispute between the EPA and KDHE over a permit that would allow construction of a coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas. KDHE attorneys asserted that the “EPA has no substantial objection to the issuance of the construction permit.”
It’s not clear exactly what they meant by “substantial,” but the EPA certainly has objections as verified by Karl Brooks, EPA Region 7 administrator, who cited three letters from the agency telling KDHE the permit issued to Sunflower Electric Corp. was not strong enough and needed to include federal standards for nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide emissions.
After the dispute was reported last week, a KDHE spokeswoman said that the officials in that office would have no comment.
Whether people are opposed to or supportive of Sunflower’s coal-fired plant, the regulatory trail this project has traveled over the last four or five years raises questions and concerns.
The permit originally was denied while Rod Bremby was serving as KDHE secretary under Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. After Sebelius left office to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, new Gov. Mark Parkinson bartered a deal to allow the plant’s construction. As he neared the end of his term, however, the permit had not been issued. Bremby abruptly was removed from his post, and, shortly thereafter, in December 2010, the permit was issued by the acting KDHE secretary.
Several months later, a Kansas City newspaper traced a trail of emails that detailed some disturbingly cozy dealings between KDHE and Sunflower, which got to pick out and answer questions that were supposed to help shape requirements of the permit. KDHE then passed Sunflower’s responses off as its own.
KDHE has a new secretary now, Robert Moser, but the Sunflower permit process still is raising questions. Last June, Moser granted an unusual permit extension to Sunflower in an apparent attempt to allow the plant to skirt new, stricter federal pollution standards. Now, it appears KDHE attorneys were trying to mislead the Kansas Supreme Court by ignoring EPA objections to the permit.
This is a contentious fight, but it doesn’t help KDHE or Kansas to be caught misrepresenting the facts of the case.