A pro-coal provision snuck into the House Farm Bill would overturn a D.C. Circuit Court Decision requiring environmental review of a coal plant proposal in Kansas.
Sunflower Electric, a Kansas power company, owes hundreds of millions of dollars to the federal government and has been bailed out from the brink of bankruptcy multiple times. In 2002, the federal Rural Utilities Service agreed to write off hundreds of millions of dollars of Sunflower’s taxpayer debt so that the company would appear financially stable enough to attract private funding for a new coal burning power plant in Kansas. A federal court in D.C. held that the federal agency had to take a close look at the project’s health and environmental impacts before giving away such a huge sum of taxpayer dollars. It’s a close look that this project can’t survive—it doesn’t even meet the federal standards for dangerous pollutants like mercury and ozone constituents. Section 5206 in the Farm Bill would retroactively undo this already-decided case and would shield Sunflower’s squandered federal dollars and poor project planning from badly-needed oversight.
Sarah Saylor, Earthjustice senior legislative representative, denounced this language as classic, special-interest politics, and a taxpayer boondoggle: “House Farm Bill Section 5206 illustrates special-interest, earmark politics at its worst. The section is not only a bad idea, it is entirely unnecessary. The Rural Utilities Service already has a fast-track that lets financially stable companies move ahead with private projects quickly, without significant federal approval or involvement. But that’s only for borrowers that can repay their debt to taxpayers—companies with a long history of financial mismanagement, like Sunflower, aren’t entitled to that fast track. Sunflower wants a shortcut that it hasn’t earned, and it wants the taxpayers to pick up the tab.”
- FACT SHEET: Sunflower Electric’s Costly Farm Bill Bailout
- Local Coverage in Kansas: Environmentalists say provision in House-approved farm bill would make it easier to build coal-burning Sunflower plant
- Earthjustice announcement of the May 28, 2013 court decision this language seeks to overturn.
- Language in the House Farm Bill:
H. R. 2642: AN ACT
To provide for the reform and continuation of agricultural and other programs of the Department of Agriculture through fiscal year 2018, and for other purposes
SEC. 5206. CERTAIN FEDERAL ACTIONS NOT TO BE CONSIDERED MAJOR.
In the case of a loan, loan guarantee, or grant program in the rural development mission area of the Department of Agriculture, an action of the Secretary before, on, or after the date of enactment of this Act that does not involve the provision by the Department of Agriculture of
Federal dollars or a Federal loan guarantee, including—
- the approval by the Department of Agriculture of the decision of a borrower to commence a privately funded activity;
- a lien accommodation or subordination;
- a debt settlement or restructuring; or
- the restructuring of a business entity by a borrower, shall not be considered a major Federal action.