Advocates Argue Appeal for Clean Air at Kansas Supreme Court

Sunflower Electric Corporation’s proposed coal plant is financially and environmentally risky for Kansas


Brian Smith, Earthjustice, 415-217-2014


Emily Rosenwasser, Sierra Club, 720-308-6055

Today, Earthjustice, representing the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, argued before the Kansas Supreme Court that the Court should overturn an air pollution permit the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) issued to Sunflower Electric Corporation to build a new 895 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kansas.

The proposed coal plant, also known as Holcomb II, was the most intensely contested coal plant in Kansas history, as well as one of the most controversial permits ever considered by KDHE. If built, the new plant would release thousands of pounds of toxic pollution in Kansas while the power it generates would be shipped to cities in Colorado.

“Kansans deserve clean air, and it is the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s responsibility to ensure that for the state,” said Amanda Goodin, Earthjustice lawyer representing the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club. “As it stands now, this permit allows tons of unnecessary and harmful pollution to be dumped into the air, putting Kansans at risk of developing respiratory and other health problems. KDHE let Sunflower cut corners and rushed the permitting process to save costs instead of requiring the best pollution controls for the new plant as the law requires.”

This proposed plant—which will be owned by Colorado-based utility Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association—will emit massive amounts of air pollutants in Kansas, including mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter. Tri-State is the 100% owner of the Holcomb II plant. Adding insult to injury, according to Tri-State’s recent resource plan, which is on file with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, it has no current need for electricity from the new plant and will not need its power until 2027, at the earliest, making the plant both unnecessary and a risky investment.

Sunflower Electric, which will construct, manage and operate the plant, still owes the federal government millions of dollars for taxpayer-supported loans taken out to build the coal plant that already exists at Holcomb Station. Allowing Sunflower to build yet another coal plant is likely to put existing taxpayer support at even greater risk.

“Coal in Holcomb is already a proven financial loser,” said Todd True, Earthjustice lawyer representing the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club. “Given Sunflower’s massive debt and precarious financial situation, it can’t possibly finance this new coal plant itself without putting Kansas ratepayers and American taxpayers at further risk.”

In a separate lawsuit, a federal court in Washington, DC held that the U.S. government violated the law by allowing Sunflower to proceed with this financially risky plant without first examining its environmental effects and alternative actions.

Kansas is already making important strides to develop clean energy like wind. In fact, during the 2nd quarter of 2012, Kansas was among the top states in the nation for wind energy under construction, and benefits from wind manufacturing by way of the Siemens component plant in Hutchinson, KS.

“Kansas is already leading the way nationally on clean energy,” said Scott Allegrucci, Kansas campaign representative of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “Wind turbines don’t require burning even a single lump of coal to generate energy, let alone burning millions of tons of coal and the dangerous air pollution that goes with that. It’s time for Sunflower Electric to invest in Kansas’ future and commit to clean energy rather than holding on to a dirty relic of the past like coal.”

  • The lawsuit claims that KDHE: Issued a permit that falls short of the minimum requirements of the Clean Air Act and will not adequately protect human health and the environment. 
  • Issued a permit without enforceable limits on nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide pollution.
  • Did not require “best available control technology” on new pollution sources, as required by law.
  • Allowed legally inadequate pollution limits even on hazardous toxic air pollutants like mercury —the most harmful to human health—in order to save costs.
  • Denied the public a fair opportunity to participate in the process by rushing through review of comments to allow the project to be permitted prior to new greenhouse gas regulations taking effect.

Read the appeal petition.

Read the August 2011 appellant brief.

Additional Resources

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