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Taking Big Coal to Court in Kansas

The proposed expansion of a coal-fired power plant near Holcomb, Kansas has been the center of controversy for several years. And now the issue is back in the news.

On Friday, Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin went to state court to challenge the recently granted air permit allowing the facility.

Our client, Kansas Sierra Club, believes the permit issued last month by the Kansas Department and Health and Environment did not do enough to regulate air pollution and that the process for approval was suspect, considering all the political influence well-documented by Kansas media.

Back in 2007, Roderick Bremby, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ head of the Health Department, rejected a permit for the plant on public health grounds. When Sebelius left to join the Obama Administration in Washington, the new governor brokered a back-room deal with the coal company to get the plant a new permit. Bremby was vilified by coal supporters for promising to do his job by reviewing the new permit application, and was shown the door late in 2010.

A temporary department head rushed through the permit before new federal pollution standards kicked in on Jan. 2, 2011. This despite 6,000 public comments and packed hearings over this controversial project—and despite the fact that predictions by the coal company and the Colorado utility that will own most of the power from the new plant show that most of the power won’t ever be needed in either state.

What most galls opponents of the plant is that 75 percent of the power would go to Colorado while Kansans would receive all the new pollution. Meanwhile, Colorado has committed to shutting down a number of its coal-fired power plants to clean up air pollution in the upwind state.

No irony-deficiency there.