Kansas Asked to Factor Global Warming in Coal Plant Decision

Carbon emissions from proposed Holcomb plant at issue


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

Last month the Supreme Court, in the landmark case Massachusetts v. EPA, ruled that carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The court also ruled that the EPA cannot refuse to regulate these pollutants for political reasons. In the first challenge since the ruling, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice are asking the state of Kansas not to issue a permit for the massive coal-fired power plant proposed in Western Kansas unless it requires substantial controls for carbon dioxide.

“The Supreme Court sent a clear message — it’s time to take action on global warming,” said Nick Persampieri, Earthjustice attorney. “We need to be looking to cleaner energy, not the same polluting World War II-era technologies.”

The proposed 1400 megawatt Sunflower plant near Holcomb, Kansas, would emit about 10 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent of 1.75 million cars per year on Kansas highways — and over 90% of the power produced would be sold out of state. This single coal plant would offset almost half of the carbon dioxide cuts being made by northeastern states as part of their Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Sierra Club and Earthjustice are pushing the coal plant developers, Sunflower Electric and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, to invest in Kansas’ abundant wind resources and efficiency instead of investing in more dirty coal plants.  

“Ranked third in the nation for wind resources, Kansas has a remarkable opportunity to be part of the solution and become a leader in clean energy,” said Craig Volland of the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Scientists tell us that we need to reduce our global warming emissions 80% by 2050- that’s a do-able 2% reduction per year. Investing in wind energy can help get us there.”

Excerpts from Sierra Club Supplemental Comment Letter on Proposed Sunflower Coal Plant Air Permit

Here are edited highlights of The Sierra Club’s May 17 2007 letter to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, commenting on why the Department should deny an air quality permit for the proposed massive coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kansas:

  • Carbon dioxide emissions from the plant will cause severe harm to the health, welfare, economy, and environment of the State of Kansas, the nation, and the planet as a whole. The proposed permit contains no provisions to eliminate or minimize carbon dioxide emissions.

  • It is clear following the Supreme Court’s April 2, 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA . . . that KDHE must conduct a best available control technology (“BACT”) analysis for carbon dioxide, and set a BACT emission limitation “for each pollutant subject to regulation under [the Clean Air Act],” including carbon dioxide.

  • It is undisputed that the Holcomb Station expansion project is subject to BACT requirements for a number air pollutants for which emissions will exceed specified significance levels. . . . Nor is there any dispute that the expansion project will result in carbon dioxide emissions in excess of any applicable BACT significance threshold.

  • In addition to being regulated under Section 821 of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, carbon dioxide is “subject to regulation” under a number of the Clean Air Act’s substantive provisions.

  • KDHE’s failure to conduct a BACT analysis for carbon dioxide and establish an emission limitation for carbon dioxide must be rectified before KDHE may lawfully issue a permit for the Holcomb Expansion Project.

  • A permit applicant must submit to KDHE detailed information regarding the source to be permitted, the source’s emissions, and the impacts of those emissions . . . . The relevant information that satisfies these requirements has changed and must be updated as a result of Sunflower’s elimination of one of three proposed coal-fired units

For these reasons and for the reasons described in the comments previously submitted by the Sierra Club and others, KDHE should deny the requested permit. Alternatively, KDHE must substantially revise the proposed permit, and provide public notice, and an opportunity to comment and request a hearing on the revised, proposed permit. 

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.