"The time to act is now," Sarah Dean, an environmentalist and appointee to the governor's Kansas Energy Council, said recently. Dean and her husband, Ray, said carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired plants is contributing to catastrophic climate changes. Sarah Dean is a retired agricultural land manager for organic and sustainable farming, while Ray Dean is a professor emeritus in electrical and computer engineering at Kansas University.
"The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is more important than ever. We must turn the tide against global warming, and reducing C02 emissions is an excellent place to begin," Sarah Dean said.
The lawsuit, filed in Shawnee County District Court, states that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is legally required to regulate carbon dioxide. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in a 5-4 decision that greenhouse gas emissions are an air pollutant and ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal to control those emissions.
"KDHE has the legal authority to limit C02 emissions, and it is time to exercise that power," Dean said. KDHE is considering a request by Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build at least two, and possibly three, 700-megawatt coal-fired plants near Holcomb.
If built, the plants could pump 15 tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' office declined to comment on the lawsuit because it said the issue was a matter of pending litigation. Sunflower Electric officials have defended their proposed project, saying the new plants would burn much cleaner than older coal-fired plants.
Sebelius, other administration officials and leaders of the six largest utilities in Kansas agreed to conservation and wind power goals. But they said coal-burning plants would continue to be a staple in the state's energy portfolio. Environmentalists were generally pleased with the agreement but said the goals were too low and would be undone by emissions from the western Kansas project.
The Lawrence City Commission also has voiced disapproval of the Sunflower project, voting 3-2 last year to urge KDHE to deny the permit. In addition, attorneys general from eight states - California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York, Rhode Island Vermont and Wisconsin - have opposed the project.
Previous requests by environmentalists to KDHE to adopt regulations to control carbon dioxide pollution have been ignored. That, combined with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, prompted the Deans to file the suit, attorneys said. Attorneys in the case for the Deans are Robert Eye, Reid Nelson and John Simpson.