Kansas Good Guy Gets The Knife Over His Coal Power Stand

Official fired by governor for refusing to permit dirty power plant

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A pollution issue that made a hero out of a Kansas governor and helped propel her into Obama’s cabinet has made a martyr out of the public servant who actually took the courageous action at the heart of the controversy.

Today, three years after he drew a line at the state’s border and refused to let a coal-fired power plant greatly expand its operations and the pollutants/greenhouse gases it would bring,Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment Sec. Rod Bremby was fired by the current governor.

For those of us who have closely followed the issue—often marveling at the courage Bremby displayed—his dismissal by Gov. Mark Parkinson is a political tragedy. Bremby deserves a medal, not a cashiering.

Here’s why anyone who cares about our nation’s clean energy future should care about Bremby and this issue.

Resistance to the expansion of coal power was growing across the country in 2007, but that resistance became a brick wall in Kansas when Bremby—with the support of then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius—refused to give Sunflower Electric Power Corp. an air quality permit for its plant expansion in Holcomb. The expansion would produce 6.7 million tons of global warming gases a year. This was the first time that a coal plant permit was denied because of global warming impacts.

Kansas quickly became the nation’s battleground over fossil fuel energy production, as the industry poured resources into state legislative attempts to nullify Bremby’s action. Four times the Legislature passed bills to approve the permit, and each time Gov. Sebelius vetoed them. Her vetoes stood in the face of attempts to overturn them, and she stood out in the national press as a beacon for clean energy.

Newly elected Pres. Barack Obama clearly saw the light.

In what turned out to be unfortunate for Kansas and Bremby, Gov. Sebelius was snatched out of Kansas to become Obama’s Sec. of Health and Human Services. That opened the door for Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson to take Sebelius’ place.

As I wrote back then, Parkinson was no Sebelius but he did promise to support her anti-Sunflower stance.

We thought Parkinson could be trusted.

We thought wrong.

Parkinson was fashioning a back-stab even before he took office. Just days before, he met privately with Sunflower representatives to work out a deal to allow the plant to expand. After taking office, he announced his flip-flop .

Tussles in court and in the Legislature followed—with Earthjustice continuing to assume a strong role and Bremby continuing to reject Parkinson and his coal buddies. Even when the Legislature finally rewrote the law to allow construction of the plant, Bremby stood firm and refused to issue a permit. His position was clear:

I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing.

It’s no surprise to us that Bremby was fired. The surprise is that it took so long for a weak governor to finally pull the trigger. Timing, it seems finally caught up with the embattled Bremby. As the Kansas City Star wrote today:

Sunflower Electric Power Corp. is seeking a new permit and wants it approved before January, when new laws regarding greenhouse emissions will make the plant more costly to build.

With Bremby out of the way, Sunflower advocates obviously think they can finally get that permit.




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.