Kansas Allows Controversial Coal-Fired Power Plant

A bitter climax to three-year fight over major pollution producer

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Three years ago, Kansas became the poster child of the nation’s clean energy movement, thanks to a pair of stalwart political leaders who refused to approve a coal-fired power plant that would have increased America’s global warming gas emissions by millions of tons each year.

Today, in the absence of those strong leaders, Sunflower Electric Co. finally got state permission to build its pollution producer. Under a new administrator, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment granted the permit after department workers spent nights and weekends processing the permit, presumably so they could beat a deadline that would have forced the new plant to meet stringent pollution standards kicking in Jan. 2.

The permit likely would not have been issued if former KDHE chief Rod Bremby hadn’t been forced out a few weeks ago after refusing since 2007 to allow the permit. Supported by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Bremby disallowed the permit because of its global warming gases output. It was the nation’s first such permit rejection. But, Sebelius eventually left to join President Obama’s cabinet, leaving Bremby to fight the good fight in the face of highly politicized, industry-friendly opposition. Earthjustice had a strong hand in that fight.

Not all is lost, however—not by a long shot. The Environmental Protection Agency last month warned that it is taking a careful look at the whole permit process. Here’s what a top EPA official wrote:

If KDHE recommends Sunflower be permitted before Jan. 2, EPA will review this initial decision…That’s why EPA must scrutinize not just the language of any Sunflower permit, but the whole state decision-making process that produced a permit.

And, as the EPA watches Sunflower, Earthjustice is observing the EPA. As Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin said:

If the EPA blinks—and it certainly shouldn’t—the Clean Air Act allows the people of Kansas legal redress to ensure the Act’s full enforcement.


From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.

Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain office protects the region’s iconic public lands, wildlife species, and precious water resources; defends Tribes and disparately impacted communities fighting to live in a healthy environment; and works to accelerate the region’s transition to 100% clean energy.