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More Scandal in Kansas Coal Plant Controversy

Kansas City Star report reveals improper relations between Kansas regulators and Sunflower Electric
June 20, 2011
Topeka, KS —

A new report reveals Sunflower Electric (Sunflower) enjoyed a cozy relationship with Kansas regulators during the permitting process for the highly controversial coal-fired power plant Sunflower seeks to build in Holcomb.

The KC Star reported on Sunday that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) essentially handed over its duties to regulate air pollution to Sunflower during the permitting procedure last year that involved the most highly contested permit KDHE has ever considered.

Read the full KC Star report and emails.

The KC Star obtained numerous emails between Sunflower and KDHE officials that were so damaging the former head of KDHE, Roderick Bremby, who now oversees the Connecticut Department of Social Services, called the situation “disgusting.” Bremby was removed from KDHE in what was largely viewed as an attempt to force through the Sunflower air permit prior to federal greenhouse gas regulations taking effect.

KDHE’s counterparts in other states reported to the KC Star that they would not allow a permit applicant such unfettered control over what is supposed to be a fair and unbiased process.

The Associated Press had previously reported, after emails were leaked to the media, that KDHE was under pressure to limit the public’s ability to participate in the permitting process. AP reported that KDHE restricted the public comment period after Sunflower solicited help from state legislators and executive officials in lobbying KDHE to limit public participation.

The KC Star’s report sheds more light on what was actually going on behind the scenes when former Governor Parkinson assured Kansans the permitting process would be conducted in a fair manner. As the emails the KC Star obtained demonstrate, the permitting process was not fair.

Highlights from the KC Star’s report and emails:

  • Sunflower played a large role in drafting responses to public comments for KDHE.
  • Sunflower was allowed inappropriate influence in dictating the terms of its own permit, as well as the timeline for the permitting process.
  • Emails demonstrate not only KDHE, but also the Environmental Protection Agency, were well aware that the permit fell short of meeting the requirements of the Clean Air Act and needed to include more stringent pollution reduction requirements.
  • As late as two days prior to the permit being approved, KDHE’s own legal counsel expressed “concerns” about statements that the proposed coal plant would not be a major source of Hazardous Air Pollutants, such as mercury.
  • Internal communications indicate KDHE’s own staff questioned the legitimacy of the settlement agreement former Governor Parkinson reached with Sunflower. Among other things, KDHE staff questioned the validity of the so-called “carbon offsets” included in the settlement.

Statement by Stephanie Cole, Sierra Club:

"KDHE not only abandoned its duties to regulate air pollution, but the EPA has also failed to correct KDHE’s mistakes that will subject Kansans to harmful and unnecessary levels of pollution for years to come. The Regional EPA Administrator reported it is up to the courts to determine if KDHE acted improperly or not. When states fail to enforce the Clean Air Act, as Kansas clearly has, the EPA has an obligation to act.

"Prior reports demonstrate that the EPA is fully aware of the deficiencies in the permit KDHE rushed to issue Sunflower, and emails obtained by the KC Star further substantiate that the EPA has full knowledge of the shortcomings of the permit.

"For five years, the proposed Holcomb expansion, which is designed to serve Colorado, has caused unprecedented controversy. The issue has overwhelmed two straight legislative sessions and resulted in a backroom deal with the former Governor negotiating away Kansans’ right to clean air. Further, the suspicious removal of the state’s former top environmental regulator is linked to the proposed coal plant, and the permitting procedure that led to the project gaining approval late last year was irrefutable slanted and unfair. It is no longer acceptable for the EPA to sit on the sidelines as Kansas regulators and politicians disregard the Clean Air Act in such a blatant manner."

Statement by Amanda Goodin, attorney with Earthjustice, who represents Sierra Club:

"The emails obtained by the KC Star show that both KDHE and EPA knew that the Sunflower permit didn’t meet the minimum requirements of the Clean Air Act, but KDHE issued the permit anyway. Since the permit was issued, EPA has sent KDHE multiple letters reiterating that the permit is deficient and unlawful, but KDHE has made clear that it intends to let the unlawful permit stand as issued. EPA has the obligation to enforce the Clean Air Act and protect air quality and public health throughout the country; specifically, EPA has the obligation to object to permits that don’t comply with the Act, like the Sunflower permit. EPA is required to step in and object to the Sunflower permit."

Contacts

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

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

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.