Coal Plant Expansion Challenged by Conservation Groups

Hearing sought on proposed Sunflower 2100-megawatt power plant near Holcomb, Kansas


Nick Persampieri, Earthjustice, (303) 623-9466
Craig Volland, Sierra Club Kansas Chapter, (913) 334-0556

The refusal by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) to fairly consider objections to a new massive coal-fired power plant near Holcomb was challenged in court today. The plant at the heart of the suit is the proposed Sunflower 2100-megawatt coal-fired power plant.

The environmental law firm, Earthjustice, representing the Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit today against the state of Kansas seeking to get a complete and fair hearing for objections to the state’s rush to approve and build this new coal facility.

The proposed power plant is one of the largest, if not the largest, of more than 150 coal-fired power plants proposed in the United States. Operation of the plant would release an estimated 14 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. This is equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions from 2.8 million cars. Carbon dioxide is the predominant greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. The plant would also release significant quantities of other harmful air pollutants including mercury and fine soot.

Earthjustice attorney Nick Persampieri said, “The proposed plant is among the worst of the proposed dirty coal plants. In light of what we now know about the causes of global warming, the state owes its citizens, as well as all Americans, a chance to discuss it.”

Attorney generals from eight states have also weighed in on the issue and have asked the state to at least minimize the damaging global warming gases the plant will spew. The attorney generals sent a letter to the KDHE pointing out that emissions from the Sunflower plant cancel out the global warming pollution that seven of the eight states have collectively vowed to eliminate by 2020. So far Kansas has not responded to the other states’ concerns.

Despite the serious public health and environmental consequences of the plant for Kansas and the nation, and the legal requirement for the state to consider all the facts before permitting such a plant, KDHE rejected the Sierra’s Club’s request to conduct a formal hearing on the proposed permit which would allow interested parties to conduct pre-hearing discovery, obtain compelled attendance of witnesses, present direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Instead, the state is proposing to issue the final permit without any formal hearing.

The lawsuit asks the Court to set aside KDHE’s denial of the Sierra Club’s request for hearing and order KDHE to hold a formal (quasi-judicial) hearing.

“A formal hearing would at least allow the public to hear that this new plant is the opposite of what’s needed to get moving on fixing our greenhouse gas problem,” said Craig Volland, spokesperson for the Sierra Club’s Kansas Chapter. Volland also noted that all but approximately 120 megawatts of the power the plant would produce is slated to be transmitted outside the state of Kansas, while the people and environment of Kansas will bear the brunt of the public health and environmental impacts.

In March the Sierra Club also warned of the need for additional study of the huge landfill at the site. Current plans call for piling 540 million cubic feet of combustion waste on unlined sandy soils near the Arkansas River. Given that this mountain of waste would probably remain forever at this site, contamination of the Ogallala aquifer with salts and other potentially toxic constituents is likely.

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