Legality of Sunflower Coal Plant Challenged

Appeal argues that KDHE failed to follow Kansas Supreme Court instructions to comply with the Clean Air Act


Phillip Ellis, Earthjustice, (202) 320-2044

Today, the Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, filed an appeal with the Kansas Appellate Court challenging the legality of a permit recently issued by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) for Sunflower Electric Cooperative to build its proposed Holcomb 2 coal plant.

The appeal details KDHE’s failure to address deficiencies in the permit identified by the Kansas Supreme Court and argues that the permit still violates the Clean Air Act and Kansas law. Specifically, KDHE did not comply with the Court’s instructions by not including adequate limitations for hazardous air pollutants such as mercury and acid gases, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide in the final permit. These pollutants are known to cause serious harm to human health and the environment. Mercury is especially toxic to infants and pregnant women, and nitrogen and sulfur dioxide pollution can cause severe respiratory distress and even death, especially for elderly or otherwise vulnerable individuals.

Statement from Earthjustice’s lead counsel on this case, Amanda Goodin: “KDHE continues to find loopholes that give this plant a blank check to pollute. The Kansas Supreme Court gave clear, legal instructions to ensure that this plant meets the most basic protections for clean air. KDHE ignored them.”

Statement from Holly Bender, Deputy Director with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign: “As clean energy booms in Kansas and the nation seeks ways to curb dangerous carbon pollution, KDHE again fast-tracked a permit that still puts the health of Kansas families at risk by prioritizing dirty coal. The Kansas Supreme Court already determined that this permit violates federal and Kansas laws, and that the plant is a serious threat to public health. Without a buyer for its dirty power and without a permit that adequately protects public health, the proposed Holcomb coal plant should remain a mirage on the plains.”

The appeal argues that the approved permit still does not comply with the Clean Air Act. It cites failure to include adequate emissions limitations for hazardous air pollutants, emission limits for greenhouse gases and current best available control technology (BACT) limits as examples.

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KDHE issued a final permit to Sunflower Electric Power Corporation in December 2010 for construction of an 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant at the site of Sunflower’s existing coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kan. The Sierra Club filed a petition the following month for review of the permit. The Kansas Supreme Court sided with the Sierra Club by ruling that the permit failed to comply with the Clean Air Act and Kansas law. The Court reversed KDHE’s decision to issue the permit and remanded it to the agency.

In January 2014, KDHE initiated the process to reissue the permit with modifications that were supposed to address the deficiencies identified by the Kansas Supreme Court. On May 30, 2014, KDHE issued the permit to Sunflower authorizing construction and operation of the new coal plant. 

A coal-fired power plant.

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