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Fired Kansas Health and Environment Official Speaks for First Time

Rod Bremby says he didn’t resign, but was removed; acknowledges "abuses" were involved in Sunflower coal plant permitting process
February 11, 2011
Kansas City, KS —

Rod Bremby, the former head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, spoke out yesterday for the first time about his removal from KDHE and the highly controversial proposed Sunflower coal plant at a public event at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

In October 2007, KDHE Secretary Bremby became the first public official to block a coal plant proposal due to global warming and public health concerns when he denied the air permit for the Sunflower coal-fired power plant expansion near Holcomb, KS.

At the event, Bremby discussed the “staggering” amount of lobbying dollars spent to force approval of the Sunflower coal plant, confirmed that he was, in fact, unwillfully removed from KDHE, and that the Sunflower permitting process was not proper. “The [Sunflower permitting] process was not a benign, pristine, routine bureaucratic process. Unfortunately, there were abuses,” Bremby said yesterday.

During the recent permitting process, the Associated Press reported on a leaked email sent by a Sunflower employee to legislators and executive officials that accused Bremby of delaying the permit and requested help in swaying KDHE to limit public participation and to expedite the process.

Any so-called delays wouldn’t matter anyway because there is no need for the coal plant, according to Sunflower and Tri-State’s own resource plans, and reports indicate Tri-State, the primary owner of the project, does not plan to start construction on the project until 2016 at the earliest.

Rather than delaying things, then Sec. Bremby was only attempting to ensure the public had a fair chance to comment on the permit, but he was suspiciously removed from KDHE on Election Day, and the permit was hastily issued soon after his removal and before federal greenhouse gas regulations went into effect.

Bremby Takes the High Road

Despite years of public criticism from coal plant supporters and a disrespectful dismissal from his post, Bremby took the high road and declined to dish out any criticisms at his talk yesterday. Although, he did take the opportunity to respond to misinformation involving the proposed Sunflower coal plant, such as claims it would be the “cleanest coal plant in the country,” that natural gas from foreign countries would need to be imported as a result of the initial permit denial, and that transmission lines needed for wind wouldn’t get built unless the coal plant was built.

None of these claims are even remotely true. Bremby encouraged the audience to investigate claims before accepting them as factual. In addition, he took the time to educate the crowd on global warming, sustainability, and opportunities for Kansas to harness its clean energy resources.

Report: Sunflower is Not the Cleanest Coal Plant—Not Even Close

GPACE released a report this week that completely disproves claims that the new Sunflower coal-fired power plant will be the “cleanest in the country,” which was a claim made by numerous coal plant supporters.

Among the report’s findings:

  • 669 coal-fired power generating units have lower emissions of particulate (soot) air pollution
  • 321 coal-fired units have lower emissions of mercury
  • 53 emit lower rates of sulfur dioxide, and
  • 18 emit lower rates of nitrogen oxides

Politicians and business leaders who advocated for Sunflower told the KC Star they took the company's word that the project would be the “cleanest in the country,” apparently without independent sources of information to inform their claims.

An Drawn-Out Struggle to Protect Public Health and the Climate

Earthjustice and Sierra Club have been raising issues about the Sunflower coal plant for years.

Among the issues raised are the fact that U.S. taxpayers are the lenders on much of the debt that Sunflower currently owes, even as it attempts to take on another larger and riskier coal plant project.

After then Governor Parkinson negotiated a backroom deal with Sunflower that couldn’t have been a weaker deal for the state, Earthjustice and Sierra Club argued for re-permitting of the project and public hearings. Shortly after, EPA echoed our arguments and required a re-permitting process.

More recently, EPA questioned the adequacy of KDHE’s air-quality permit issued in December, which we have argued is dreadfully inadequate.

Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin said, "This EPA letter points out serious failings in the permit that the people of Kansas should be very worried about. Clean air and the health of Kansans is just too important to let a flawed and inadequate permit slide through."

Earthjustice and Sierra Club are challenging the new rushed-through permit.

Contacts

Amanda Goodin, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1020

Stephanie Cole, Sierra Club, (402) 984-1122

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.