Archive for Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Environmentalists say provision in House-approved farm bill would make it easier to build coal-burning Sunflower plant

July 17, 2013


— Buried in the farm bill that was approved by the U.S. House is a provision that environmentalists say would make it easier to build a coal-burning electric power plant in southwest Kansas.

Environmentalists have won federal court decisions that will require an environmental review before Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. can build the $2.8 billion, 895-megawatt plant near Holcomb.

But a section of the House's farm bill would essentially negate that environmental review requirement, according to Bill Griffith, energy chair of the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, and Amanda Goodin, an attorney for Earthjustice, which has been fighting the plant in court.

"It's very disappointing and short-sighted," Griffith said.

He said he wasn't sure how the provision had been put in the farm bill. Cindy Hertel, a spokeswoman for Sunflower Electric, said she had no knowledge of the provision.

The House-approved farm bill also stripped out food stamps and was recently sent to the Senate, which has passed a separate farm bill. A conference committee will soon discuss differences between the House and Senate versions.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan ordered the Rural Utilities Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to complete an environmental study before granting any approvals to Sunflower for the project. The federal agency must sign off on decisions about the plant because it provided past financial support to Sunflower and oversaw corporate reorganizations.

The provision in the farm bill "would get around the federal court decision, but they have a lot of other obstacles in their way," said Goodin.The plant still faces other regulatory, financial and legal hurdles, she said.

The fight over the project has been going on for years. Under the proposal, although the plant would be built in Kansas, most of the power would be used by Colorado customers of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

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 the plant, just before new federal regulations on greenhouse gases went into effect.


Currahee 4 years, 10 months ago

I actually want this plant to be built. Jobs will always be a war between the environmentalists and business people but the fact is that high paying service jobs are few and far between in rural areas that need to thrive on industry. If money is coming from other states who are willing to pay for electricity, why shouldn't we allow it? It's not like it's going to leave a toxic disaster area in 5 years. This will also satisfy incresing electrical demand for years to come. The environmentalists don't want dino plants, but solar and wind is as equally unviable. Wind kills countless birds and becomes dangerous if an internal part breaks. Solar doesn't work at night.

elliottaw 4 years, 10 months ago

If it will cause no long term damage then why are they so afraid to get an enviro. study done? Seems they know it will cause damage and that is why they have been trying to find ways to get around the study.

Jeff Kilgore 4 years, 10 months ago

It will poison our skies, the electricity goes out of state, a few people will make a pile of money, and the "incomes" of the workers won't even cover the cost of taxes that will educated their children. Sounds like the Kansas we've all come to know.

KidKansas 4 years, 10 months ago

Regardless of one's position on building new coal power plants, it does not seem unreasonable to require an environmental assessment before committing to construction. Kansas residents deserve to know the impact that a new plant will have on their health and environment. It is inappropriate for congress to supersede the Federal Court's ruling by hiding such a provision in the farm bill. Are Kansas representatives working their citizens or for Sunflower Electric Power Corp?

Ken Schmidt 4 years, 10 months ago

Equally as curious was the push to have this permit issued before environmental statutes were placed. According to the Bird Conservation Network, "at least 100,000,000 birds" are killed by windows in items such as homes or cars each year; a number far exceeding those found killed by turbines (even if the two numbers were statistically normalized). Using your logic, should we therefore choose to stop building houses with windows or cars with windshields. I will not begin to refute your argument regarding "internal parts" as you obviously have little knowledge regarding what those "parts" might be. As far as solar plants and night, again, you are improperly read. Newer solar plant design, as described by the government's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and in service for the Sevilla region of Spain, have the ability to transfer energy to superheat a salt composition and continue energy production throughout the night.

Your point regarding jobs and the benefits of driving interstate commerce has tangible validity, it would also be wise to consider the environmental impacts of such a project before merely throwing caution to the, "wind." There was a reason that the environmental standards were agreed upon by a bipartisan group of legislators. Big business does not have your best interests in mind and will not study the impact of your well-being if not forced to do so.

blindrabbit 4 years, 10 months ago

Curahee: Did you consider how few jobs this plant would create once it is constructed and operational?? Or what about increases in airborne SOx, NOx, Particulates and Mercury, not to mention the waste disposal (although the fracking folks are using the fly ash now). But the real problem for placement in the Western Kansas (near desert) is the demand coal fired steam plants (and this a steam plant) have for cooling water for the condensers. What is the source for such water, the perpetually dry Arkansas River, no, it is the underground aquifer. The aquifer is being rapidly depleted by farm utilization, especially now with more center pivots and gravity flow irrigation being installed needed to grow crops such as corn and cotton

Richard Heckler 4 years, 10 months ago

Lots of jobs and new industry come with cleaner energy sources. Which from an environmentalist point of view is far more fiscal responsible.

Renewable energy is reliable, affordable, and beneficial for our health, our economy, and our environment. By increasing renewable energy, we can:

Reduce air pollution / Cut global warming emissions / Create new jobs and industries / Diversify our power supply / Decrease dependence on coal and other fossil fuels / Move America toward a cleaner, healthier energy future /

Merrill and Union of Concerned Scientists supports practical, cost-effective policies that promote renewable energy and lower barriers to its adoption. These include strong renewable electricity standards, financial incentives like clean energy tax credits, and investment in a smarter electrical grid.

The USA needs cleaner energy sources. Wind Power / Solar Power / Biomass / Geothermal Energy / Hydroelectric Power / Hydrokinetic Energy /

Larry Sturm 4 years, 10 months ago

Not only air pollution but think about the amount of water it will use taking away from household use and irrigation.

kernal 4 years, 10 months ago

That has been my point all along with this proposed project. The main source of water for farming in western Kansas, and other plains states, is the Ogallala aquifer. Due to the ongoing drought and rapid depletion by all the farming in the great plains, the water that it has taken thousands of years to accumulate has rapidly been depleting. Estimates for complete depletion was 25 years as of a couple of years ago. I imagine other states who use this water are going to have something to say about this.

The other part of this is the Keystone pipeline. If it leaks in Nebraska, there's a possibility the aquifer will be contaminated. There's a review in the works on research about that issue as well.

I wonder if the other states who use the acquifer have been informed this little tidbit was surreptitously added to the farm bill.

Patricia Davis 4 years, 10 months ago

If Colorado needs this, let Colorado build it in Colorado.

Clearly4Kansas 4 years, 10 months ago

We need to aggressively put new coal fired plants online. Obstacles to oil exploration and refining must be removed immediately. Gas prices at the pump have doubled from the start of the Obama administration. Now the hard left wants to double my utility bills. Next week I find out at work what ObamaCare will do to my employer paid health insurance; I sure hope my share of health insurance costs don't double too. You hard lefties are destroying family budgets. Stop this insanity!!

Ken Schmidt 4 years, 10 months ago

Your reply is in jest, correct? Surely you are not suggesting that the left is to blame for high oil prices as well as recent sticker shock for utilities. I do not think anyone can blame one side or another for those. Oil prices are commodity based, energy too for that matter, albeit in a more muddled manner. Refining oil and private-entity "public utilities" are big business; truly, they have become the largest business players in the country and their lobby powers exceed all but the most prodigious Washington entities. The rhetoric of blaming one side or another for our monthly bills should stop. These companies need to be held accountable...not only for their pricing, but for how they do business. This DOES include the impact they have on economy-of-life scales as well. If you are interested, review what impact coal-fired plants had along the Pigeon River in Tennessee to the mountains and their inhabitants in North Carolina twenty years ago. These plants had near impunity to act outside of ecological regard and spent years pointing fingers as their acid rains nearly cleared whole forest ranges. Moving forward with developing our own self-sufficiency in energy production must remain at the forefront of our political agenda, but not at the expense of our nation's well being. The two should be married, not disassociated while big business pads their coffers with unregulated abandon.

Brad Greenwood 4 years, 10 months ago

"Gas prices at the pump have doubled from the start of the Obama administration." Really? The average US price per gallon in 2008 was $4.12, today it's $3.62. Did you get your definition of "double" from the really really big book of Koch math?

link -->

Clearly4Kansas 4 years, 10 months ago

Actually, you picked the peak of 2008, it fell quickly- this article from Feb 2012 tracks it accurately...

( – The average price for one gallon of unleaded gasoline has increased nearly every month since Barack Obama was inaugurated in January 2009. At that time, when George W. Bush was leaving office, the price was $1.78 per gallon. Today, three years and one month later, the average price is $3.64.

In addition, according to the average price data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices (in nominal dollars: not adjusted for inflation) peaked during Bush’s second term at $4.09 per gallon in July 2008 and then fell to $2.15 in November, when there was an election, and fell further in December 2008 to $1.68

Ken Schmidt 4 years, 10 months ago

You chose only one election. I think if you continue to review, the price of gas--not oil as your first reply indicates--falls each time there is an election, or each time that congress tries to quell the masses by promising to designate a committee to review pricing. In each instance, and only a few months later, refining companies report record profits while we return to status quo gouging. This is not a party issue, its a politician issue. The direct benefactors are those who use the lobby dollars to win reelection.

Brad Greenwood 4 years, 10 months ago

True, my bad for not reading all the data. That $4.09 was the peak... which increased from about $1.32 when Bush first took office... triple the price! Keep in mind, the President (whether its Bush or Obama) can do very little to control gas prices... that's all the work of the oil speculators... but if you're going to point out the increase under Obama, let's not forget the even bigger increase under Bush.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 10 months ago

Scientific American

Radioactive Elements in Coal and Fly Ash: Abundance, Forms, and Environmental Significance

Coal is largely composed of organic matter, but it is the inorganic matter in coal—minerals and trace elements— that have been cited as possible causes of health, environmental, and technological problems associated with the use of coal. Some trace elements in coal are naturally radioactive. These radioactive elements include uranium (U), thorium (Th), and their numerous decay products, including radium (Ra) and radon (Rn).

Although these elements are less chemically toxic than other coal constituents such as arsenic, selenium, or mercury, questions have been raised concerning possible risk from radiation. In order to accurately address these questions and to predict the mobility of radioactive elements during the coal fuel-cycle, it is important to determine the concentration, distribution, and form of radioactive elements in coal and fly ash.

Kansas and Lawrence cannot afford more toxic sources of energy. Cancer is not only painful but very very expensive. Westar will not assist in the cost of treatment for cancer.

Chris Golledge 4 years, 10 months ago

The cost of continuing to use fossil carbon as fuel will be larger than the benefit we derive from it. Here is a cost estimate of allowing warming to continue until it causes a release of Arctic methane. This just a piece of the what-it-will-cost-us pie, and it is as large as the entire yearly global GDP. Granted, the cost would be borne over more than one year, but then, it would be thousands of years before conditions improved.

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