Coal-fired power plant permit process draws criticism in Kansas

The Kansas City StarDecember 13, 2010 

Santa’s elves aren’t the only ones working longer hours as the holidays approach.

For several weeks, nine Kansas state employees have been voluntarily working weekends and late into the night to finish a review of a permit for a power plant.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials think they should be able to issue the air quality permit for the coal-fired plant of Sunflower Electric Power Corp. by the end of the year.

And that worries the coal plant’s opponents, who said the extra hours were a clear signal that the state was pushing the permit process too fast.

Sunflower would benefit greatly if the permit is issued before Jan. 1, when new rules would force the utility to install greenhouse gas pollution controls that will add tens of millions of dollars to the price of the proposed plant in western Kansas.

That doesn’t mean the state is doing Sunflower any favors, acting Health Department Secretary John Mitchell said in an interview. Although the state’s deadline coincides with Sunflower’s, the two timelines are independent, he said.

Workers are volunteering to work longer hours, Mitchell said. Staffers weren’t ordered to do the work, and they cannot receive overtime because they are exempt.

“We have a dedicated staff in the Bureau of Air,” Mitchell said.

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