Archive for Friday, October 4, 2013

Kansas Supreme Court reverses issuance of permit to build coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas

October 4, 2013


— A proposed 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant in western Kansas was dealt a major setback on Friday as the state Supreme Court overturned the project's permit.

The court's unanimous decision was cheered by environmentalists but Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, blasted the ruling, saying the court had joined "President Obama's war on American energy" and "struck a significant blow to the struggling rural communities of southwest Kansas."

But Amanda Goodin, the Earthjustice lawyer representing the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, which challenged the plant, said, "This is a good day for everyone in Kansas who breathes."

Goodin added, "The permit for this dirty coal plant would have allowed tons of unnecessary and harmful pollution to be dumped into the air, putting Kansans on the hook for respiratory and other health problems."

Sunflower Electric Power Corp., the Hays-based company seeking the permit, said it was not giving up and would try to move the permit process forward.

"Sunflower will continue to take the steps necessary to preserve and advance the project, which is one of many resources under consideration to meet the long-term power needs of our member co-ops," the company said.

In the decision written by Justice Marla Luckert, the court ruled that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which granted the permit for the plant in 2010, failed to apply Environmental Protection Agency regulations on pollution emissions that had become effective several months before the permit had been issued.

The court sent the case back to KDHE, telling the agency that the permit must comply with one-hour emission limits for nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

A major political battle for years

The proposed project has been the center of disputes for more than six years.

Under the proposal, Sunflower Electric would manage the project while most of the electricity produced would go to customers of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association in Colorado.

Proponents of the plant say it will bring crucial jobs and economic development to western Kansas. Opponents contend the plant will pollute, draw down water reserves and provide electricity that won’t be used in Kansas.

In a stunning decision in 2007, then-KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby denied a permit to Sunflower Electric citing the effects of the project’s carbon dioxide emissions on health and climate change. It was the first time a plant had been denied in the United States based on the effects of greenhouse gases.

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.

Bremby’s successor at KDHE, John Mitchell, approved the permit, which set up legal challenges.

The future of proposal is uncertain

Bob Eye, a Lawrence attorney also representing the Sierra Club, said he doubted the plant would be constructed.

"That plant is no closer to being built than in 2007. In fact, in terms of legality, it is much less likely to be built now," Eye said.

A spokeswoman for KDHE said the agency was reviewing the decision "to determine what impact it has on the air construction permit going forward."

In a separate lawsuit earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan in Washington, D.C. ruled that the plant could not be built without a thorough environmental review.


Catalano 2 years ago

If Bob Eye ever runs for anything again he'd best not use Chad Manspeaker for a campaign manager if he wants to win.

In_God_we_trust 2 years ago

Yes, and maybe even they will shut down Westar electric coal plants too! However the side effect would be that Lawrence would come to a complete stand still and be in the dark.

gccs14r 2 years ago

Reopen the lands in southern Kansas to wind farms and we can offset the loss of our coal plant. Start using baseload solar (yes, there is such a thing) like they built in Spain recently and we can get rid of all of them.

In_God_we_trust 2 years ago

While csp (thermal) solar in Spain is a massive concept, the cost would drive your electric bill to more than double what it is with coal currently. It would be more practical in the SW United States or a hot desert environment..

Steve Bunch 2 years ago

The costs are much greater long term. We should be paying much more for carbon-based fuels, and there should be equitable rationing too. (We already have inequitable rationing: People with less money can't consume as much.)

tomatogrower 2 years ago

Yes, but the conservatives never think in long term. Make big profit now, use up all our resources now. They could care less about the long term effects, because they will be dead, and it's all about them.

gccs14r 2 years ago

Oh, so my average electric bill would go to $64? Darn. I'd have to start conserving energy.

msezdsit 2 years ago

Get rid of the coal industry subsidies and tax breaks and all the health costs it causes people and then compare what it really costs to produce coal energy instead of the phony price you are pretending. How about the permanent devastation mountaintop removal permanently inflicts. The economies that are ruined and the peoples lives that are ruined from this crime against the earth and all its living creatures. How about the poisoned fisheries in every state, how about the dead forests and the acid rain and the people crippled with mercury poisoning (mostly infants and children). How about the cost to the work force while people are home treating the illnesses the coal industry has inflicted on them. How about the health of those people. How about the damage to the ozone.

If all these costs created by your so called "coal is cheap energy" fantasy's were tallied you would find the alternative choices much less expensive. Time for the flat landers to get out of the "pretending" energy business and let the responsible people take over.

Joe Blackford II 2 years ago

Dang. Kansas had the last chance in the nation to build a new dirty coal-firedl plant! /sarchasm

bad_dog 2 years ago

It appears there is a gap in your facetiousness...

somebodynew 2 years ago

Well, something tells me Mr. Bremby should be smiling and holding his head high !!! Good job, Rod.

Bill Griffith 2 years ago

A unanimous decision sends a very strong signal to KDHE and Sunflower on just how poorly done this permit was.

Catalano 2 years ago

"A court that the Kochs couldn't buy." Yet.

But a shining example of why they would like to change our constitution so Sam can fix that. Just like he did recently by appointing Caleb Stegall to the Court of Appeals.

Patricia Davis 2 years ago

Would someone please tell me why this happened: "Mark Parkinson, almost immediately crafted a deal with Sunflower to allow the project."

Catalano 2 years ago

Because his future was already securely in place.

gccs14r 2 years ago

Now maybe Colorado will supply their own power, preferably without depleting the Ogallala.

jayhawklawrence 2 years ago

I am not convinced that our immediate future can ignore coal as a resource. I am not celebrating.

Last I heard, the United States has some of the largest deposits of coal in the world.

The deal that Parkinson made also included investments in alternative fuels. What is going to happen with those investments?

There needs to be a balance in our approach to problem solving and balance is not what our politics is about these days. We need to think outside of the box in order to find reasonable solutions when everyone you talk to is a fanatic.

Bill Griffith 2 years ago

The investments on alternative fuels include research on transportation fuels-not sure if there was much in there for electricity. The investments will not be touched by this decision as the court was narrowly focused on the air permit. Sunflower had backed off on the algae-related research last I heard. We do have a great deal of coal in the ground but the Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones.

question4u 2 years ago

"Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, blasted the ruling, saying the court had joined 'President Obama's war on American energy.'"

"War" seems a wee bit of an exaggeration, but we'll take your word on that Sam. After all, you should know a war when you see it, being a veteran of wars on the poor, the middle class, education, the environment, the mentally ill, justice....

Ken Lassman 2 years ago

Follow the money, everyone, and you'll see why Sunflower Power has persisted in trying to build this mirage on the Plains despite reports from Tri-State and other potential electricity buyers' statements indicating that the electricity generated from a new coal-fired plant at Holcomb wouldn't be needed in Colorado until 2027 if even then:

The agreement to build Holcomb II includes a provision to write off hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars lent to them by the Rural Utilities Service in order to build the Holcomb I power station! Sunflower Power has repeatedly defaulted on paying back those loans, so the only chance they see of getting out from under that bad investment is to strike an agreement with the RUS to write off the hundreds of millions of dollars they can't pay back so that they can appear to be stable financially again in order to attract new money for the expansion project, which will sell the power out of state for a profit. Sunflower Power has had to give over much of its oversight of the project to RUS in exchange for them writing off this huge debt, but nobody asked us taxpayers why we should be throwing good money after bad.

Now the Sierra Club has put a fly in the ointment by requiring the RUS to write an environmental impact statement, and the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously agreed with this. Furthermore, they are saying that the upgraded pollution standards announced by the EPA during the licensing phase must be adhered to.

Thank you, state supreme court, for looking out for the average Kansan in not allowing the attempted end run around the rules by Sunflower. I suspect this also might kill their attempt at another end run provided by the House version of the Farm Bill in Sec. 5206 that attempts to change the rules exempting the RUS from having to do an environmental impact statement--we'll see.

Bill Griffith 2 years ago

As far as the fly in the ointment analogy I would up that by saying it was more like a thumb-size hornet from China. I agree with the proposition that this throws a spanner into the Farm Bill sleight-of-hand that we witnessed.

Scott Drummond 2 years ago

The Brownbuck quote says volumes about Sam's regard for representing all Kansans and the integrity of the office he holds. Disgusting that he thinks a decision that EPA regulations must be followed constitutes the Kansas Supreme Court declaring war. Shameful dishonesty.

Will now await a panties wetting editorial....

msezdsit 2 years ago

"Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, blasted the ruling, saying the court had joined "President Obama's war on American energy" and "struck a significant blow to the struggling rural communities of southwest Kansas.""

Pretending, thats all, lying that the coal plant is for kansas. The sole purpose for the plant is to profit its owners and investors. The "energy" Brownback lies about is for sale and not for western Kansas. The same tiresome old "myth" that the republicans lie about with the keystone pipeline. It goes to the gulf of mexico for export and is owned by the corporate oil cartels. There is no proof or assurance it will benefit the US . The anti people party is lying to the people for the oligarchy's profit. Their profit. All these energy scams profits are at the expense of the peoples health and livelihood.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.