TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas' top environmental regulator gave the go-ahead Friday for the construction of a $2.8 billion coal-fired power plant, only days before the federal government was expected to announce new rules for utilities designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, approved changes in a 2010 pollution-control permit for Sunflower Electric Power Corp., for a proposed 895-megawatt power plant outside Holcomb, in southwest Kansas. The changes impose stricter controls on nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants and were mandated by a state Supreme Court ruling last year.
Environmentalists have long fought Sunflower's plans to build a coal-fired plant next to an existing coal-fired plant, and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit challenging the 2010 permit. The Supreme Court agreed that the state didn't use strict enough standards in some areas but refused to void the entire permit.
Kansas hasn't regulated emissions of carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping greenhouse gas linked to climate change, and the amended permit wouldn't limit them from Sunflower's new plant. Several representatives of national environmental groups said Friday that Moser and his department should have tackled greenhouse gas emissions because allowing Sunflower to build the plant will make it far more difficult to reduce them in Kansas.
"I think they're just hoping that if they close their eyes and cover their ears, all this will just go away," said Amanda Goodin, an attorney for Earthjustice, which represented the Sierra Club in the lawsuit over the 2010 permit.
Moser said his department had anticipated that Sunflower's project would meet the tougher standards required by the Supreme Court but spent months reviewing the proposed amendment to make sure. Among other things, the court is requiring Sunflower to meet hourly limits on nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, instead of standards that average emissions every three hours.
"KDHE has done its due diligence to ensure this plant will deliver clean power to Kansans within current emissions limits," Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said in a statement.
Sunflower said it was reviewing the final version of the permit amendment but said the department had an "open and transparent" process for considering public comments.
Brownback and many legislators back Sunflower's project because they believe it will create jobs and boost the economy in southwest Kansas. The Sierra Club and other environmentalists have accused Brownback's administration of rushing its consideration of the permit changes.
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