TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday reversed a state agency's decision to issue a permit to construct a new coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas, delivering a victory to environmental groups that accused the state of cutting corners for political reasons.
The court's unanimous decision is a setback for Sunflower Electric Power Corp., which hopes to build a second plant near Holcomb.
Justices ruled that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment failed to apply one-hour emission standards for nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide that had been issued by the EPA before the permit was granted. Those standards now must be considered when reviewing the permit, as do EPA standards issued after the permit was granted that regulates limits of mercury, acid gases and other toxins from coal- and oil-fired power plants that produced more than 25 megawatts of power.
The ruling sends Sunflower's permit request back to the KDHE to consider the stricter standards before granting the permit. KDHE spokeswoman Miranda Steele issued a statement saying the agency was reviewing the decision and the impact on the construction permit going forward.
Sunflower issued a statement Friday saying it would "respect the decision of the court in this very complex case" and work with the KDHE going forward, suggesting the project wasn't dead.
"Sunflower will continue to take the steps necessary to preserve and advance the project, which is one of many resources under consideration to meet the long-term power needs of our member co-ops," the utility said in its statement.
The case was brought by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups who claimed that the permitting process was flawed. They argued that the KDHE took shortcuts for political reasons, and that members of the environmental groups have been or would be harmed by the plant's emissions.
Amanda Goodin, an attorney for Earthjustice who argued the case before the court, said the ruling "takes the wind out of the sails" of Sunflower by forcing the permitting process to restart.
"They can't go forward with the project as it is proposed. They have to meet the new requirements," Goodin said. "It shows them that their repeated attempts to cut corners and cheat the process aren't going to work."