New Wrinkle In Sunflower Coal Story: We "Own" The Loan

Government has right to force environmental review, says legal action

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A troublesome new chapter has opened in the matter of Sunflower Electric’s attempt to more than double the electrical output at its existing coal-fired plant in Holcomb, Kansas.

After digging through 10,000 pages of documents, Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman discovered that Sunflower in the past had defaulted on its debt service payments to the federal government, and that as a consequence the federal government now has effective oversight over Sunflower’s business decisions, including the attempted expansion of its existing plant.

That means that you and I and all other American taxpayers have a major stake in how that plant performs, financially and environmentally. We have long known that the expansion was a thoroughly bad idea because of the enormous amounts of greenhouse gases it would produce for decades. The revelation of Sunflower’s indebtedness to the public could be a key to stopping the expansion.

On Friday, based on those findings, Jan asked a federal court to prevent the government and Sunflower from moving forward with the expansion project until the government has taken a hard look at the environmental harm that the new coal plant will cause. His reasoning is pretty clear: since the federal government has oversight authority, acquired as a condition for forgiving earlier bad debts of the coal plant, it must abide by federal law which requires a full environmental review of any federal action likely to have a significant impact.

The lawsuit demands that the government financing agency, known as the Rural Utilities Service, perform a proper analysis of how the expansion will affect the environment. We’re limited in what we can do about the existing plant’s dirty output of particulate and greenhouse gas emissions, but this legal action gives us the chance to keep it from procreating.

Earthjustice has been fighting the expansion vigorously for two years through legal and public opinion efforts. We supported then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius against legislative attempts to force the expansion on an unwilling public, and we continue to stand with the embattled Rod Bremby, head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, who is being pressured by the current governor to approve the plant permit.

Another reason to feel optimistic about stopping Sunflower is how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently stepped in to make the plant expansion permit process more public. The EPA stopped a permit process, reached in private between Sunflower and Gov. Mark Parkinson when he took office. More than 1,300 Earthjustice supporters signed a petition thanking the EPA for this action.

Read here for another take on the latest Sunflower debt revelations.

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.