For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Amanda Goodin, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340, ext. 20
Stephanie Cole, Sierra Club, 402-984-1122

Kansas Issues Permit for New, Massive Sunflower Coal Plant While Other States Begin Retiring Existing Coal Plants

Federal review of air permit process expected

TOPEKA, Kan. - Today, the Kansas
Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) issued a permit for the
highly controversial coal plant Sunflower Electric seeks to construct
near Holcomb. The coal plant has been the subject of a multi-year
controversy after being denied a permit in the fall of 2007.

Today's action and the controversy it has generated is expected to
provoke a review by the federal government. A top Environmental
Protection Agency official wrote in an open letter on November 27:

"If KDHE recommends Sunflower be permitted before Jan. 2, EPA will
review this initial decision ... That's why EPA must scrutinize not just
the language of any Sunflower permit, but the whole state
decision-making process that produced a permit."

"The EPA has announced plans to carefully review this permit to
determine whether KDHE adequately considered public comments and whether
the permit includes the strong pollution controls required under the
Clean Air Act," said Amanda Goodin of Earthjustice. "If EPA blinks-and
it certainly shouldn't-the Clean Air Act allows the people of Kansas
legal redress to ensure the Act's full enforcement."

The final permit was pushed through in less than six months despite a
comment period that generated 6,000 public comments, many of which were
against the project, and despite decreasing electricity demand, low
natural gas prices, and considerable renewable energy growth. In fact,
just this month Colorado announced it will be shutting down coal plants
while Kansas brings a comparable amount of new coal capacity online,
ironically, mostly to serve Colorado.

"Thousands of people got involved in the permitting process with a
belief that their input would be fairly considered, and it should have
been. Accelerating the process to permit a coal plant for an
out-of-state utility, at the expense of Kansans, is inexcusable," said
Stephanie Cole of the Kansas Sierra Club.

Long-term Health and Financial Consequences

The proposed new coal-fired power plant would emit millions of tons
of pollutants each year over the 50+ year life of the project, posing
substantial risks to human health and the environment. The pollutants
emitted by the plant will include fine particulates, ozone forming
constituents, hazardous pollutants such as mercury and greenhouse gases,
all of which EPA has found pose serious risks to human health.

Sunflower has itself admitted that there is no need in Kansas for the
vast majority of the capacity from this massive new polluting
plant-instead, Tri-State, a Colorado utility, is slated to receive the
majority of the power. But Tri-State's recent long-term resource plan
shows that Tri-State has no need for the capacity either, and Tri-State
has not yet committed to the project. Sunflower still hasn't paid back
the federal government the millions of taxpayer dollars it owes for its
existing coal plant at the Holcomb station. Given Sunflower's massive
debt and precarious financial situation, it can't possibly finance this
new coal plant itself without putting Kansas ratepayers at risk.

A Politicized Process

The permitting process requires public comments to be thoroughly
considered. Instead, review of nearly 6,000 public comments apparently
was cut short in an attempt to avoid new national environmental
regulations, which become applicable on Jan 2, 2011.

The permitting process has been a national embarrassment for Kansans,
as the state, blessed with some of the country's best wind resources,
vigorously pushes forward with plans for an unneeded coal plant, which
would burn Wyoming coal while other states begin retiring their existing
coal plants. This politicized fiasco was plagued with leaked emails
exposing permit process manipulation, backroom deals, unwarranted
involvement from the state legislature, and the abrupt and suspicious
removal of former Secretary Bremby from KDHE.

"The rushed job on this permit is an injustice to the thousands of
citizens who participated in the process with the belief that their
input was meaningful," said Stephanie Cole of the Kansas Sierra Club.
"By turning the permitting process into a race against the clock, the
state has signaled that it does not value public involvement."

While Sunflower may now have a permit for the project, they are far
from breaking ground on a new coal plant. In fact, coal plant
construction has been on the wane for years, and it is unlikely
Sunflower, already highly indebted to the federal government, will break
coal's multi-year losing streak anytime soon.

While Kansas is rushing to build a coal plant for a Colorado utility,
which would receive most of the power, the rest of the country,
including Colorado, has moved beyond coal. For example, just last week
Colorado announced plans to begin retiring existing coal plants.

Recent coal plant shut down announcements:

  • Just last week, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved the retirement of 902 megawatts of coal power.
  • The Boardman plant in Oregon with will be shut down by no later than 2020.
  • Los Angeles will get out of one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country-the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona.
  • The Arizona Public Service Company will begin retirement of three boilers at the Four Corners power plant.
  • In recent months, over 13,000 megawatts of existing coal capacity has been announced for early retirement.

"Under this scenario, Colorado gets power while Kansas makes a
long-term commitment to an outdated coal plant other states are
unwilling to take a gamble on," said Stephanie Cole from the Sierra
Club. "Kansas gets the pollution; Colorado gets the power. What a deal."


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