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Delight and Dismay over Coal

Contradictory actions by the coal industry this week illustrate how treacherous the road is to a clean energy future for America.

On Tuesday, to our delight, developers of the proposed Highwood coal-fired power plant in Montana surrendered and announced that they would instead build natural gas and wind-powered generating plants. The credit for this should go to Earthjustice attorneys Abigail Dillen and Jenny Harbine, whose two years of legal action against the plant obviously paid off.

Also on Tuesday, Michigan's governor made it clear that her state was becoming a coal-free zone and gave coal developers marching orders to look at alternative energy.

But sobering news out of Kansas on the same day cut our victory dance short.

The thrice-defeated Sunflowed coal-fired plant expansion has been jolted back to life in the state Legislature. We spent a lot of Earthjustice resources last year and the year before keeping that beast from coming to life. Here we go again.

The new bill before the Legislature, HB 2182, is being heard in the House Committee on Energy and Utilities. We are still looking at all the details, but it appears to be designed to overturn the 2007 decision by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment denying the Sunflower permit.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius staunchly defended KDHE and three times vetoed legislative attempts to force the Sunflower plant's pollutants on a citizenry that supported the governor by a 2:1 majority. Polls showed that the people wanted their state to use its legendary wind for power - not a coal plant that belches 10 tons of C02 every year. Need we say that C02 is the single biggest cause of global warming.

At heart, the new bill requires Kansas law to be no more stringent than federal Environmental Protection Agency rules, which don't limit C02 emissions. The punctuation to these rules came just before Obama took office when Bush's EPA chief, Stephen Johnson, issued an infamous memo directing his agency not to control CO2. This despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave EPA authrority to do so.

We have launched a campaign to get that Johnson memo retracted so that EPA will start doing the job for which it was created: protecting the environment. But, in the meantime we continue opposing the Kansas plant expansion. Earthjustice attorney Nick Persampieri had a strong hand in stopping the plant before and remains on the case.