After four years of trying, Big Coal’s national ambitions have again bogged down at the Kansas state line.
A federal judge this week agreed with Earthjustice that the federal government failed to consider environmental impacts of the proposed Sunflower plant expansion. The government has a financial stake in the plant because of loan arrangements made with plant owners by the federal Rural Utilities Service. The ruling could force the government to conduct an environmental impact review process on the proposed plant.
This is great news for clean energy advocates, because – at least for the time being – the ruling takes Sunflower’s future out of the hands of state politicians and their industry pals, who used backroom tactics to approve this polluting and unneeded behemoth.
Back in 2007, when Kathleen Sebelius was governor, the state rejected the proposed plant because of its potential, massive contributions to climate change. While popular with citizens, the decision made coal-connected legislators apoplectic. But, try as they did, they couldn’t overcome Sebelius’ vetoes.
Even when Sebelius left office – and was replaced by a governor who quickly gave Sunflower the green light – the coal lobby was stymied by legal pressures and by Rod Bremby, the state environmental health chief who had first rejected the plant permit under Sebelius. He held the line for three years until finally being fired over the issue. His successor promptly issued the permit last December. Federal regulators still haven’t approved the permit – and never will if Earthjustice and its clients continue prevailing in court.
The latest court decision, by Judge Emmett Sullivan with the federal district court in Washington, D.C., came in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club. Judge Sullivan has asked for additional briefing to determine whether activities at the project should be halted until a full environmental review is conducted. That briefing will be completed by mid-June, with a decision anytime after that.