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KDHE moving forward with coal plant permit




TOPEKA -- For the second time in as many days, the Brownback administration has snubbed the Kansas Supreme Court.

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TOPEKA -- For the second time in as many days, the Brownback administration has snubbed the Kansas Supreme Court.

The latest incident came Thursday, when the Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued a three-page addendum and said it would move ahead with the issuance of a construction permit for Sunflower Electric's second coal-fired power plant at Holcomb. It also set a public comment period and scheduled a hearing in Garden City.

In effect, KDHE said it already has done what the court ordered it to do.

"The addendum issued by KDHE validates that the Holcomb Expansion air quality construction permit meets all applicable environmental regulations," according to a statement from Sunflower. "Sunflower is pleased that the Holcomb Expansion Project remains a possible option for meeting the reliable, affordable power requirements of our cooperative members and those they serve. As always, Sunflower will continue to evaluate the project at every stage and will only advance the project if it remains in the best interest of our members."

On Wednesday, Gov. Sam Brownback, in his State of the State address, told legislators and the Kansas Supreme Court -- sitting up front in the House chambers -- the Kansas Constitution "empowers the Legislature -- the people's representatives -- to fund our schools."

The court is expected to issue a decision anytime now in a long-running school finance case that could force legislators to come up with anywhere from $440 million to $700 million to add to the school fiance formula.

By moving ahead with the Sunflower permit, KDHE is all but thumbing its nose at the court's ruling.

Sent back to the agency by the Kansas Supreme Court, KDHE on Thursday released new documents that effectively say what the court ordered already were in place.

"Actually, the numbers were in there," said Sunflower Electric spokeswoman Cindy Hertel. "The numbers have not changed from the original permit."

Essentially, while the court said KDHE must use specific emission rates in issuing the permit, the agency, in the addendum, claims that's what it did.

"These are the emission rates used in the modeling to verify the NAAQS was not violated by the new construction," KDHE said in its addendum summary. NAAQS is an acronym for the federal National Ambient Air Qualify Standards.

Kansas Sierra Club air-quality committee chairman Craig Volland remained skeptical.

"You would have thought somebody would have brought that up," he said of attorneys raising the issue long before the case made its way through administrative hearings and hearings at both the district and appellate court levels.

Volland also voiced concern KDHE is using the process to sidestep an Environmental Protection Agency rule exempting the proposed power plant from even more stringent rules.

The EPA in September said it would take comment on three proposed power plants -- including Sunflower's Holcomb plant -- to determine if they were far enough along in the construction process to be grandfathered in under the old greenhouse gas rules.

Had KDHE issued a new construction permit, Sunflower would have to abide by the even tighter pollution rules.

KDHE also claims there's no need to implement a more stringent federal rule of "best available control technology" because the agency put the permit on hold prior to its 18-month expiration.

Through the addendum process, KDHE is contending the construction process now can continue.

Neither the Kansas Sierra Club nor its attorneys had been notified of the move and were scrambling to figure out just what it all means.

With that decision, KDHE has established a comment period -- beginning Thursday and continuing through Feb. 19. It also scheduled a public hearing for Feb. 19 at the Garden City High School auditorium.