Citing Global Warming, Kansas Denies Plant Permit
By Matthew L. Wald (The New York Times) - January 22, 2007
A Kansas regulator has turned down a permit for a large coal-fired power plant solely because of the global warming gases it would emit.
Opponents of the plant say this is the first instance of a regulatory agency’s rejecting a permit for that reason alone.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Thursday turned down a permit for twin 700-megawatt coal-fired generators that a group of electric cooperatives is seeking to build near Holcomb in southwest Kansas. The ownership and the electricity would be shared by 67 cooperatives in Kansas and neighboring states.
The department’s staff had recommended issuing the air quality permits, but Roderick L. Bremby, the secretary of the department, said in a statement, “I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing.”
Mr. Bremby cited a Supreme Court ruling this year, Massachusetts v. the Environmental Protection Agency, in which the court found that carbon dioxide was a pollutant and could be regulated.
At the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, which would be the operator and part-owner of the plant, a spokesman, Stephen J. Miller, said the court decision merely permitted regulations on carbon dioxide but did not create them. “There are no carbon dioxide regulations in the federal rules or in Kansas,” Mr. Miller said.
A spokesman for the environment and health department, Joe Blubaugh, said, “What it really boils down to is the secretary is authorized by Kansas statute to affirm, modify or reverse a decision on an air permit to protect health and the environment of Kansas.”
Mr. Miller said that if the plant cannot be built, the cooperatives would try to build a power line to import electricity from a coal-fired plant planned in Missouri.
Kansas has a goal of getting 10 percent of its electricity at peak periods from the wind. Mr. Miller said the co-ops would meet the goal by the end of the year, two years ahead of the state deadline.
He said the builders would file an administrative appeal of the decision, which they expected to lose, and then go to court.
At the Sierra Club, which is involved in two suits against the project, Bruce E. Nilles, director of the group’s national coal campaign, said, “I went back through all the rejections I could think of, and none of them were explicitly on the basis of carbon dioxide.” Other environmental groups said they would use the Kansas decision as a precedent in fighting plants elsewhere.
The Kansas decision points to a problem in determining the value of carbon dioxide. Mr. Miller said that as an alternative, the cooperatives could build plants powered by natural gas, which creates half as much carbon dioxide per unit of heat produced. But at a market price of $8 per million B.T.U.’s for gas, the fuel cost for a kilowatt-hour from the co-op’s existing gas-fired plant is about 8 cents, while from coal, the price is 1.5 cents. (A new plant would need less gas to make a kilowatt-hour, experts say, but the price difference would still be substantial.)
Since there is no tax or trading system for carbon dioxide in the United States, there is no common yardstick for determining whether the additional amount that consumers would pay for gas is offset by the carbon saved.