Topeka 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.