Federal Judge Puts Brakes on Kansas Coal-Fired Power Plant
March 31, 2011
In an important victory for Kansans and the environment, a federal judge has ruled that the U.S. government violated federal law by providing approval and financial assistance to Sunflower’s controversial power project without environmental review or public involvement. The decision raises new questions about the future of the proposed Holcomb II coal plant, which is already in litigation over its air pollution permits.
The ruling, by Judge Emmett Sullivan with the federal district court in Washington, D.C., came in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club. In the lawsuit, Sierra Club argued that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) provided extensive financial support—including writing off millions of dollars of public debt—so that Sunflower could build the new plant, which is not needed for Kansas but would send power to Colorado. These agreements left the RUS with close oversight of Sunflower’s business operations and required federal approval to proceed with the Holcomb project. Much of Sunflower’s financial struggles stem from overbuilding capacity at their existing coal unit, Holcomb I, which is a scenario that could be repeated if Holcomb II is constructed, since neither Sunflower nor its Colorado partner, Tri-State, has demonstrated a need for the project. Sierra Club argued that, since Holcomb II is essentially a federal project, greater environmental review and consideration of alternatives, such as conservation and renewables, are required. Judge Sullivan agreed, and has asked for additional briefing to determine whether activities at the project should be halted until a full environmental review is conducted. That briefing will be completed by mid-June, with a decision expected anytime thereafter.
December 15, 2008
Sierra Club and allies won a major victory on December 11, when a state hearing officer ruled that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment acted properly last year when it rejected Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s air permit for its massive coal-fired power plant expansion in western Kansas. The Dept. initially rejected Sunflower’s air permit because it contained no plans to control carbon dioxide emissions from the 1600MW expansion, and the proposed plant would have emitted an estimated 11 million tons of CO2 each year. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius has also consistently acted against the Sunflower expansion; she successfully vetoed three bills that would have granted the proposed plant’s air permit. Last year Kansas was the first state in the union to reject a coal plant because its contribution to global warming posed a serious threat to local communities and the environment, and this ruling represents a monumental win in the fight against global warming.
Sunflower Electric Power Corp. has 15 days to petition the Dept. to review the hearing officer’s decision.
Details and Documents:
Judge Puts Brakes On Kansas Coal-Fired Power Plant
March 31, 2011, Sierra Club & Earthjustice's Press Release
Judge Sullivan's Redacted Order Granting Sierra Club's Motion for Summary Judgment
April 18, 2011, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Sierra Club's Motion for Summary Judgment
October 28, 2009, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
State Hearing Officer's Order
December 11, 2008, Kansas Office of Administrative Hearings
Judge Blocks Kansas Power Plant Project
April 1, 2011 by Gabriel Nelson, Greenwire
Sierra Club cheered by ruling in Kansas coal fight
March 31, 2011, The Associated Press
Ruling may inhibit Sunflower project
March 31, 2011 by Tim Carpenter, The Topeka Capital-Journal
Court ruling could delay Sunflower coal plant
March 31, 2011 by Karen Dillon, The Kansas City Star
See other "Stopping the Coal Rush" cases.