KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby to leave health department in preparation for new Kansas governor

Bremby played a key role in evaluating proposed southwest Kansas coal power plant

? Three years ago, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby shocked the state and nation by denying a permit to Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. for a coal-fired power plant in southwestern Kansas.

Bremby cited the project’s carbon dioxide emissions in what was believed to have been the first time a public agency in the United States blocked a coal-fired unit based on its effect on climate change.

On Tuesday, it was announced Bremby was leaving KDHE — before the agency acts on Sunflower’s request for another permit for a proposed 895-megawatt coal-burning plant.

Supporters of the coal plant, which has been blessed by Gov. Mark Parkinson, have said they would like the permit approved before the first of the year, which is when new federal greenhouse gas regulations take effect.

Environmentalists were troubled by the news of Bremby’s departure.

“Secretary Bremby has done a commendable job that has greatly improved the health and environmental quality for Kansans,” said Stephanie Cole, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Sierra Club. “He will certainly be missed. It’s discouraging that Secretary Bremby was unable to oversee the work of KDHE without unwarranted obstruction from political and special interests.”

Parkinson’s office said the governor offered Bremby the job as “Cabinet Transition Director,” which would assist in the change of administrations over the next two months.

Bremby declined that position, Parkinson spokeswoman Amy Jordan Wooden said. She noted that all cabinet secretaries served at the pleasure of the governor.

Bremby could not be reached for comment.

A KDHE memo about personnel changes noted Bremby’s departure and said that John Mitchell, director of the division of environment, would serve as acting secretary.

On Oct. 18, 2007, Bremby denied a permit sought by Sunflower Electric.

“I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing,” Bremby had said.

The Kansas Legislature, dominated by supporters of the project, tried to overturn Bremby’s decision with legislation, but each time was thwarted by vetoes by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Parkinson was elevated from lieutenant governor to governor when Sebelius left Kansas in 2009 to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Almost immediately Parkinson crafted a deal with Sunflower Electric to bless the project — in exchange for reducing it from two 700-megawatt units and getting legislators to approve renewable energy legislation.

The deal was done, and Sunflower re-entered the permit process. KDHE has announced issuance of a draft permit for the unit near Holcomb.

The last public hearing on the proposal was held last week.