A local news outlet recently discovered that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) got a little too friendly with a power company that applied to build an 895 MW coal-fired power plant in the state.
Internal emails uncovered by the Kansas City Star demonstrate that the KDHE consulted with Sunflower Electric Power Corp. officials to determine how they should respond to over 6,000 public comments opposing construction of the plant.
“Some of the responses KDHE produced as their own work were nearly verbatim copies of the responses suggested by Sunflower. KDHE even helped Sunflower set up a computer program to process the questions,” reports Earthjustice.
And that wasn’t the only time the state agency, which is charged with protecting the health of all Kansans and upholding the Clean Air Act, depended on the power company to tell it what to do.
The Kansas City Star found that “during the months the department was writing the 275-page permit — which will determine emissions releases for years to come — staffers were in almost daily contact with Sunflower Electric Power Corp. officials.
An editorial in The KC Star lays the blame for this scandal squarely at the feet of former governor Mark Parkinson, and his fellow coal advocates.
“The permit process is a shameful legacy of former Kansas governor Mark Parkinson. The Democrat reversed the refusal of his Democratic predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius, to grant a permit for a coal-burning plant in western Kansas. Sebelius and her secretary of health and environment, Roderick Bremby, said the plant would pollute Kansas air while generating most of its power for Colorado. Parkinson fired Bremby in early November after Sunflower officials said they thought he was slowing down the permit process. With Bremby gone, regulators worked nights and weekends to process Sunflower’s permit.”
Proponents of the proposed plant near Holcomb in western Kansas say it will bring crucial new jobs to a depressed area, but studies have shown that the coal industry only delivers a fraction of the jobs promised when seeking approval for new power plants.
While many Kansans are outraged at this blatant violation of the public trust, Republicans in the state seem unable to see anything wrong with the KDHE’s actions:
“Being cozy with business is not necessarily bad,” said Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican. “Kansas needs to be open for business. We don’t have mountains. We don’t have oceans. If we don’t allow for people to make it easy to make a profit in Kansas, there really is no reason to come here.”
Well, Rep. Schwab, filthy air and polluted waterways make it difficult for people to live there. So which is more important, profit or people? It’s time to do your job and take a stand for the health and happiness of the Kansans that you were elected to serve.
Image Credit: Flickr - Eli Beck