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Kansas Supreme Court to hear Sunflower lawsuit


TOPEKA (AP) -- The Kansas Supreme Court this month will consider a challenge by environmental groups to a state permit for construction of a $1.5 billion coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas.

The high court will hear oral arguments Aug. 31 in Topeka on the validity of the state permit issued in 2010 to start construction of the 895-megawatt plant near Holcomb, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Sierra Club and Earthjustice contend in the lawsuit that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment improperly granted regulatory approval to the project, which they say is unnecessarily damaging to the environment. The organizations want the permit overturned.

Development partners Sunflower Electric Power Corp., Hays, and Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association maintain that the state's permit is sound.

The Sunflower project has been on indefinite hold. In January, a federal judge delayed the project until a federal environmental impact study could be completed.

Sunflower spokeswoman Cindy Hertel said the cooperative's management would not comment before the state Supreme Court's review. Sunflower serves 400,000 people in Kansas, but most of the new electricity would be transferred to other states.

Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin said the state negotiated the deal with Sunflower to break a political stalemate, which resulted in issuance of a KDHE permit that falls short of Kansas' obligations under the federal Clean Air Act. She also said the final regulatory process was overly influenced by Sunflower executives.

Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, said he wouldn't comment on the case.

"This is a matter for the court," Brownback said.