TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's top environmental regulator is considering whether to clear the way again for a new coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas, but environmentalists contend that Gov. Sam Brownback's administration is taking short cuts to ensure that the $2.8 billion project is built.
Sunflower Electric Power Corp. needs a pollution-control permit from the state Department of Health and Environment for its proposed 895-megawatt plant outside Holcomb in Finney County, where the Hays-based utility already has another coal-fired plant. It obtained a permit in December 2010, but eight months ago, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the department to revise it to impose tougher air-quality standards.
Secretary Robert Moser is reviewing a proposed amendment drafted by the department's staff, and his approval would allow Sunflower to go forward with the project.
But the Sierra Club and Earthjustice, national environmental groups involved in the lawsuit prompting the court decision, argue the department should have started over, rather than amending the old permit. Both groups also want the state to scrap the project and focus on aggressive development of renewable energy.
"They are once again trying to take short cuts," said Amanda Goodin, an attorney for Earthjustice, which represented the Sierra Club in the lawsuit over the 2010 permit. "It really has been whatever they can do to ram this through as quickly as possible."
Department officials declined to discuss the proposed amendment to the Sunflower permit because Moser is still reviewing it. The agency also isn't saying when Moser will decide.
In a "summary sheet" for the permit amendment prepared earlier this year, the department's staff said environmental modeling done for Sunflower in 2010 showed its new coal plant would meet even the more rigorous standards demanded by the Supreme Court.
The court told the department to impose a set of hourly limits on nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions, rather than the less stringent three-hour limits set by the permit. It also ordered another set of tougher standards for other pollutants, including mercury. In both cases, the Kansas agency wasn't incorporating rules the EPA had set while the permit was pending.
But the Kansas court declined to invalidate the entire 2010 permit, as the Sierra Club had requested.
"The addendum addresses two aspects of the original permit," Sunflower spokeswoman Cindy Hertel said in an email. "It is not a new permit."
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