Coal-Fired Power Plant Expansion Faces Legal Challenge in Kansas

Lawsuit cites failure to meet Clean Air Act standards, improper permitting process


Amanda Goodin, Earthjustice attorney, (206) 343-7340, ext. 20


Stephanie Cole, Sierra Club, (402) 984-1122


Bob Eye, Sierra Club attorney, (785) 234-4040

Today, Earthjustice, representing the Sierra Club of Kansas, filed an appeal to a permit the Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued to Sunflower Electric in December 2010. The permit is for the controversial 895 megawatt coal-fired power plant near Holcomb.

Read the petition filed today.

“As the mother of two sons with asthma, I am aware of the correlation between respiratory health and air quality. Nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulates and other hazardous pollutants threaten the health of those with respiratory illness, children and the elderly in particular,” said concerned Kansan, Jennifer Byer. “When the debate centers on the quality of the air our children breathe, how clean is clean enough?”

The proposed coal plant was the most intensely contested coal plant in Kansas history, as well as one of the most debated permits KDHE has ever considered. The permit was rushed through and undermined by outside influences, which was well-documented by Kansas media.

“Kansans who expected to receive a fair and objective review of this permit will take the issue to court,” said Stephanie Cole of the Kansas Sierra Club.

The appeal challenges deficiencies in the permit that could expose Kansans to unnecessary levels of harmful air pollutants including mercury, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. For instance, the permit fails to set appropriate limits on Hazardous Air Pollutants, such as mercury, which are the most harmful to human health—even in small amounts.

“KDHE let Sunflower take shortcuts and ignore available pollution control technology; as a result, this is one of the dirtiest plants that has been permitted in recent years. Public health and pollution controls cannot be brushed aside under federal law, the Clean Air Act is quite clear on this,” said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice.

“When it comes to millions of tons of pollution for a coal plant that is not needed for Kansas, there is no place for mistakes or misconduct,” said Cole. “The weak emissions standards in the permit mean that Kansans will be exposed to unnecessarily high levels of pollutants that we know cause serious health problems.”

Coal Plant is for Colorado, Other States Planning to Shut Down Coal Plants

The majority of the power from the Holcomb II expansion would serve Colorado, a state that committed last month to retiring 902 megawatts of existing coal capacity. It is highly unlikely a new coal plant would ever get built in Colorado, and by agreeing to do Colorado’s dirty work, Kansas will be using billions of gallons of our water annually to operate the coal plant – despite having fought Colorado for water for over two decades.

While Kansas rushed to permit a new coal plant for Colorado before the year’s end, the rest of the country spent 2010 planning to retire existing coal plants.

  • For the second straight year, not a single new coal plant broke ground for construction in 2010.
  • A total of 48 existing coal plants were announced for retirement in 2010, which is likely the most coal plant retirements announced in a single year. They will be replaced with cleaner burning fuels, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.
  • Colorado, where most of the electricity from the Holcomb II coal plant will go, established a plan to shut down 902 megawatts of existing coal capacity.
  • Announced coal plant retirements in 2010 in Colorado, Arizona, Utah and Oregon will result in the retirement of nearly 10% of the entire Western coal fleet.
  • The Energy Information Agency now projects that no new coal plants will be built in 2011 without significant incentives.
  • The University of North Carolina, University of Illinois, Western Kentucky University, Cornell and University of Louisville all made coal-free commitments.

Kansans Agree: Coal Plant Not Needed, Lawsuit is Necessary to Protect Public Health

“Jobs for a few years, pollution forever. As someone who lives near the site of the new coal plant, I am not willing to sacrifice my family’s health and welfare so a Colorado company can build a coal plant in Kansas they are not willing to build in their own backyard,” said Barb Percival, who lives only a few miles from the Holcomb coal plant site.

“Sunflower is so far in debt, I question who is going to pay for this project. If Tri-State wants the electricity, let them build the coal plant in Colorado,” said Lee Messenger of Garden City.

“Claims by project supporters that this will be the ’cleanest coal plant in the nation’ are simply not true. According to 2010 EPA data, there are many other coal plants in the country that have lower sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions than the proposed Holcomb plant. Similarly, particulate matter and mercury emissions from this plant will exceed what many other coal plants are emitting. Under the KDHE permit, the Holcomb unit will not be using state of the art processes that are already in place at dozens of existing coal plants,” said Scott Allegrucci of GPACE.

“I worked hard to participate in the process, and I expected KDHE would consider my input. I was disappointed with the outcome. While organizing citizens to attend hearings, I saw first-hand strong opposition to this coal plant,” said Stephen Collins, a University of Missouri- Kansas City student.

Chuck Gillam, chairman of the Advocacy Committee of the theological based Sustainable Sanctuary Coalition, said, “the state has sold out the health of Kansans, and those who were interested in protecting public health, like Secretary Bremby, have been quietly eliminated.”

“Former Secretary Bremby’s decision to reject this permit set Kansas apart as a national leader in addressing climate change, said Margaret Tran, a recent Kansas University graduate. “I cannot see how my generation and generations to follow will be encouraged to stay and work in Kansas with a coal plant that does not create long-term jobs but instead, creates unhealthy pollution.”

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