U.S. court puts up roadblock on Sunflower Electric Power Corp. coal-burning power plant in Kansas

TOPEKA — Environmentalists on Tuesday cheered a court ruling that the proposed 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas cannot be built until there is a thorough environmental review.

“We are confident that once the environmental impacts of this plant are considered in light of alternatives, the project’s impacts will be unacceptable and it will be rejected,” said the Sierra Club’s Scott Allegrucci.

Officials with Sunflower Electric Power Corp., which has been pushing for the project near Holcomb, had no immediate comment.

Cindy Hertel, a spokeswoman for Hays-based Sunflower Electric, said the company was analyzing the court decision.

The ruling was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan in Washington, D.C.

Sullivan’s decision follows a March 2011 ruling that the federal government’s Rural Utilities Service, which was financially supporting the Sunflower project, failed to consider environmental impacts of the plant.

Sullivan has ordered “RUS shall not issue any approvals or consents for agreements or arrangements directly related to the Holcomb Expansion Project, or take any other major federal actions in connection with the Holcomb Expansion Project, until an EIS is complete.”

The decision represents another twist in the project that has rocked Kansas politics for years.

In 2007, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby denied a permit to Sunflower Electric citing the effects of the project’s carbon dioxide emissions on health and climate change.

The Legislature tried to override Bremby’s decision but each time was thwarted by vetoes by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

When Sebelius became secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, her successor Mark Parkinson almost immediately crafted a deal with Sunflower to bless the project.

In November 2010, Bremby was removed after refusing to resign as head of the KDHE to coordinate the cabinet transition from Parkinson’s administration to that of incoming Gov. Sam Brownback. Bremby said he was willing to help with the transition, but didn’t want to leave office to do so.

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.