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Sunflower Takes Fight for Coal-Fired Power Plants to Court

July 17, 2008

By David Klepper, The Kansas City Star, Mo.

Jul. 17–TOPEKA — Because state lawmakers couldn’t help, a western Kansas utility has taken its fight to build two new coal-fired power plants to court.

Sunflower Electric Power Corp. hopes the Kansas Supreme Court will overturn a state regulator’s rejection of its project.

But that may be too late to head off another fight in the Legislature next year.

A judge in Finney County on Tuesday dismissed two of Sunflower’s lawsuits, saying he did not have jurisdiction. State law says that when an environmental permit is denied by the state, the appeal should start in a higher court.

Last fall, state Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby blocked Sunflower’s proposal to build two 700-megawatt plants near Holcomb. Bremby cited the plants’ carbon emissions and their impact on global climate change.

Sunflower and many lawmakers argued that Bremby lacked the power to block the project because Kansas does not regulate carbon emissions. They said the rejection of the plants would deal a blow to western Kansas and scare away future investment in the state.

But attempts to overrule Bremby were vetoed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat.

Sunflower had said the project would likely collapse if the Legislature did not act by June.

But now the company hopes legal action will succeed where lawmakers failed.

Four additional lawsuits challenging the denial are pending, and Tuesday’s decision clears the way for some to head to the state’s Court of Appeals or Supreme Court.

Sunflower spokesman Steve Miller said the company wanted a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court.

Sunflower did not object to Vieux’s dismissal of the cases, as it speeds up the other challenges.

But unless the high court fast-tracks the case, a decision is unlikely to come before next year’s legislative session.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Environment, Mike Heideman, declined to comment on Tuesday’s ruling, but said the state would continue to defend Bremby’s decision.

To reach David Klepper, call 785-354-1388 or send e-mail to dklepper@kcstar.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Kansas City Star, Mo.

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