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Kansas Coal Plant Gets Another Free Pass to Pollute

Waiver favors Colorado special interests over Kansas health and environment
July 22, 2011
Topeka, KS —

On Thursday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment quietly issued Sunflower and Tri-State another free pass to pollute by allowing the proposed Holcomb II coal plant to yet again escape compliance with the Clean Air Act. Read KDHE’s order.

Sunflower, which seeks to construct a controversial new coal plant in Western Kansas, was excused from a requirement to begin construction of the coal plant within 18 months of receiving a permit. Despite it only being 7 months since the permit was issued, Sunflower is already seeking to avoid the construction requirement. This is likely due to the fact that neither Sunflower nor Tri-State have a need for the coal plant, according to both coops own resource plans, and Tri-State reported long ago it had delayed construction of the Holcomb II coal plant until 2016 at the earliest.

“By already allowing Sunflower to avoid complying with terms of the permit KDHE itself issued, one has to question what else Sunflower will be excused from in the future,” said Stephanie Cole of the Sierra Club.

“The state continues to turn its back on Kansans and the law. The Environmental Protection Agency has a clear obligation to require appropriate procedures to be followed in this case. Time and again, the EPA has allowed this project to avoid following the law. This is no longer acceptable, and we fully expect the EPA to act where KDHE has failed to do so,” said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice.

Ironically, Sunflower, with the help of KDHE staff “volunteering” to work overtime, rushed the permitting process last year to obtain a permit for a coal plant that it knew was not needed or even an economical endeavor in the near-term. Now, Sunflower and Tri-State are asking to delay construction without complying with provisions of the Clean Air Act that require permits to be updated to include modern pollution controls if construction cannot commence within the required 18 month timeframe.

“Just like the rush to permit the project prior to new greenhouse gas regulations taking effect, this is yet another attempt to avoid the requirements of the Clean Air Act. KDHE is giving Sunflower another free pass to pollute and doing so without even allowing the public an opportunity to comment on this unprecedented move,” said Cole.

It has been obvious for a long time to anyone remotely following the coal plant debate that near-term construction of Holcomb II was unrealistic given Sunflower’s poor financial standing, the lack of need for new generation, and Tri-State’s preparation of an electric resource plan for Colorado regulators that does not include Holcomb II.

With the troubled Holcomb II coal plant being noticeably absent from Tri-State’s own resource plan and unrefuted reports that indicate the Colorado coop had long ago delayed construction of the coal plant until 2016 at the earliest, promises of jobs and arguments of urgent power needs lose credibility with Tri-State and Sunflower now delaying construction. Near-term construction of Holcomb II would result in a large overbuild of capacity, which is in large part why Sunflower remains in debt to taxpayers for its existing coal plant at Holcomb and also why it’s highly unlikely genuine plans to being construction within the required 18 month timeframe ever existed.

Rather than following the typical procedures for extending the construction requirement of a permit, Sunflower and Tri-State submitted a request to KDHE that is so unusual that even the EPA and the former Secretary of KDHE, Rod Bremby, reported to the Kansas City Star that they were unfamiliar with such a peculiar request.

Background:

  • The permit KDHE issued Sunflower requires construction of Holcomb II to commence construction by June 16, 2012.
  • During the permitting process last year KDHE was presented with numerous comments that identified Sunflower and Tri-State’s transparent attempt to gain a permit prematurely. These comments requested that KDHE require the necessary permit updates and public input when the inevitable requests to delay construction were submitted.
  • The Holcomb II permit is the most controversial permit KDHE has ever considered—yet the agency improperly approved a significant change to the permit without even allowing for public comment.
  • Earthjustice and Sierra Club argued for KDHE to follow the appropriate and traditional requirements for permit extensions that would include an updated environmental analysis, a “Best Available Control Technology” analysis, and public input.; These requests, which reflect the law, were ignored.
  • The approval of Sunflower’s request will allow Sunflower to avoid requirements of the permit KDHE issued and avoid considering the most stringent pollution control technologies that would best protect public health and the environment.

Contacts

Amanda Goodin, Earthjustice, (906) 343-7340, ext.1020

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

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