Feds weigh in on coal plant

Department of Interior says it should have been notified

? A federal agency has raised questions about the proposed coal-fired plants in western Kansas, saying the units could reduce the visibility of the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, approximately 250 miles south of the project.

“While this project may be considered far from the Wilderness Area, the amount of proposed emissions may have some effect on the air quality,” the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service stated in a letter to state officials.

The letter was among hundreds on file Monday concerning Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s proposal to build three 700-megawatt coal-burning plants near the company’s existing 360-megawatt plant in Holcomb.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Friday closed the public comment period on a permit for the plants. KDHE has not set a timetable on when it will make a decision.

The Lawrence city commission, eight states – including California, New York and Wisconsin – and several environmentalists have voiced opposition to the project, saying it will pump too much pollution into the air and contribute to destructive climate change.

Sunflower Electric officials and numerous residents of western Kansas support the project, saying it will help the economy and use cleaner, more modern technology to produce electricity.

In its letter, Fish and Wildlife called for a more in-depth study of the project’s emissions and also chastised state officials for not notifying the federal agency of Sunflower’s plans.

“I hope that we will develop an agreement that will provide timely and reasonable federal land management agency involvement in your permitting process,” wrote Sandra Silva, chief of air quality for Fish and Wildlife.

Joe Blubaugh, a spokesman for KDHE, said that in hindsight, the state agency should have notified the federal agency.

He said that normally, the state notifies federal officials when a plant expansion is projected to cause significant pollution within 60 miles of a federal park.

The Fish and Wildlife concerns centered around the effects of increased pollution on the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma.

Silva noted in the letter that emissions from the expansion would add 6,500 tons per year of nitrogen oxides; 8,500 tons per year of sulfur oxides; and 3,400 tons per year of particulate matter.

Fish and Wildlife “is concerned about potential impacts to AQRV’s (air quality related values), including visibility, at the Witchita (sic) Mountains Wilderness that may result from the proposed coal fired generating units.”

Under federal law, wilderness areas and national parks receive special protections from projects that will produce air pollution.

Sunflower Electric’s Web site states that the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado is the closest of these national areas to the project, about 250 miles away. Sunflower states that an environmental analysis showed that the project “will not adversely affect visibility at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.”

The Wichita Mountains national refuge is 256 miles away from the Holcomb project. Fish and Wildlife said a more in-depth analysis, including more short-term averages of pollutants, should have been used to determine the project’s effects.

Steve Miller, a spokesman for Sunflower Electric, said, “I have every confidence that the work they did was in accordance with the law.”