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Regulator Who Blocked Kansas Coal Plants Ousted by Governor

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Roderick Bremby denied coal plant permits, citing carbon dioxide emissions and global warming concerns.

Two years ago, Kansas’ top environmental official became the first state regulator in the country to deny a permit for new coal-fired power plants based on the health and environmental risks posed by carbon dioxide pollution. On Tuesday, as mid-term elections dominated the news, he lost his job.

Environmental advocates say it’s clear why Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson got rid of Roderick Bremby, the state’s Secretary of Health and Environment: The company that he denied permits to in the past is back again. And this time, there’s a deadline -- in January, new federal rules on greenhouse gas emissions begin to take effect. If Sunflower Electric Power Corporation receives a state air-quality permit before that date, its proposed plant would be grandfathered under the current standards.

"It was a midnight execution," says NRDC senior advocate Theo Spencer. "When everybody’s eyes were on the election, the governor fires the guy who was responsible for protecting public health and the environment so he can ram this power plant through against public opinion."

Roderick BrembyThe governor’s office denies that Bremby’s dismissal had anything to do with coal, calling it a routine staffing matter in a statement. On Tuesday, the governor asked Bremby to step down from his post and take a new job as head of a cabinet transition team -- or be fired. When Bremby refused, he lost his job.

"All cabinet secretaries serve at the pleasure of the governor," spokesperson Amy Jordan Wooden said. "It was Governor Parkinson’s wish that Rod Bremby take on an important transition role over the next few months" as a newly elected governor comes in to replace the outgoing Parkinson. "Mr. Bremby declined that position. … The governor has not done anything to accelerate or slow down the permitting process on the Sunflower plant."

But Scott Allegrucci, director of the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy (GPACE), says "there isn't anyone in the state who doesn't know what this was about." He’s certain Bremby was removed to clear the way for someone willing to expedite the air permit for Sunflower’s proposed 895-megawatt coal plant in western Kansas and allow it to avoid the looming EPA rules, which would require more pollution-control technologies that could make the plant more costly to build.

A Sunflower spokesperson did not return calls for this story. Sunflower’s website promises the new plant would "be among the cleanest power plants of its kind, using the best available technology to reduce the emission of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter." Less than a quarter of the proposed plant’s electricity would be used in Kansas; most would go to utilities in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming.

A week before Bremby’s ouster, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity released a study it commissioned from Kansas State University economists. They said the new plant would create 1,900 construction jobs, 88 permanent jobs, and generate $40 million in sales tax revenue per year. Allegrucci notes that the study ignores health and environmental costs.

Since Bremby denied permits to Sunflower in 2007, saying 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," the controversy has come to symbolize a contentious debate over Kansas’ energy future.

"Fossil fuel interests are very powerful in Kansas," NRDC’s Spencer says. "They play an outsized role in Kansas politics and have a huge impact on the Kansas legislature."

As lieutenant governor to Kathleen Sebelius in 2007, Parkinson vocally supported Bremby’s fight with Sunflower. After Bremby denied the permits, Sunflower launched a protracted legal and legislative battle. The state legislature voted to allow the new plants, and Sebelius vetoed it.

Parkinson took over in 2009 after Sebelius was named President Obama’s U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. The new governor negotiated an agreement that would have let Sunflower build a single 895-megawatt plant instead of the two 700-megawatt ones the company wanted, provided that Sunflower shutter several older coal plants and build transmission lines to the west to export Kansas wind energy. Critics say these things would have happened even without the agreement, which wasn’t made public until it was already signed.

"What’s become clear is [the governor] does not value or consider credible the environmental threat the coal plant poses," Allegrucci says. "His pitched rhetoric while he was lieutenant governor was either extraordinarily duplicitous, or he was just carrying water for [Sebelius] and it wasn’t how he really felt."

Parkinson’s agreement with Sunflower essentially gutted the power of the state’s health and environment secretary to "affirm, modify or reverse a decision on an air quality permit." Bremby’s role was reduced to overseeing a public comment and bureaucratic process. Even so, things appeared to be proceeding too slowly for the permit to be granted before January.

Allegrucci notes that even if Bremby’s replacement supports the Sunflower proposal, there is no way that the 6,000 public comments collected could honestly be reviewed and a decision made before the end of the year.

"One of the concerns is the attempt to disregard all that public input," he said. "Bremby did not sign off on the settlement agreement and has been trying to protect the integrity of the permitting process ever since … despite constant efforts by Sunflower, its lobbyists, and elected Kansas officials to tamper with that permitting process."

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Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based freelancer and journalism instructor at Columbia College and in a non-profit youth program. She is the author of three books, most recently "Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover and What it Says About ... READ MORE >
We are clearly not ready to abandon coal-fired power stations yet, and nor should we. Huge progress has been made in making them cleaner and more efficient, and there will be a big world market in them for many years to come. In due course, it seems inevitable that they will be phased out in favour of other sources, such as nuclear. The CO2 conjecture has not been supported by observational evidence. Indeed observations have contradicted the computer models of climate in which CO2 is assigned a major role. The absence of the predicted hotspot in the troposphere is one such result. But the ongoing failure of global temperatures to rise, even while CO2 emissions continue to rise, is a more obvious one. Playing the so-called green card to justify drastic policy decisions should not provide a guarantee of immunity from being called to account for foolishness. 'Saving the planet', when based on weak scientific conjectures, is potentially extremely damaging and dangerous. It has already caused a lot of avoidable grief by encouraging the use of agricultural resources to produce motor fuel, and thereby driving up the cost of food.
The above opinion is Clearly in support of the fossil fuel industry, and its environmentally destructive, Greedy financial policies. We should not have to breathe filthy air along with our electrical power.
Increased CO2 is not the only damaging effect of coal sourced energy! Think of the environmental and social hazards of mining, for example. Coal fired power plants are also the primary source of mercury in the environment. However, I agree with you that coal is an inevitable source of energy for the future. That is a matter of economics. But the damaging effects on the environment cannot be argued! While both globalized economics and the natural world sustain our livelihood, only money drives policy. This article is an example of how environmentally oriented thinkers can be phased out by those who maintain their own power and wealth are in control.
" I can no longer live in this cesspool called Earth" - George Sanders, actor.
Nikola Tesla was both an Electrical and Mechanical Engineer with over 700 patents. He designed and constructed the AC Polyphase Generator starting with Niagra Falls and then went out across the whole Earth. 100 years have past after Tesla called the money power that rules the roost " The Organized Opposition ". After rejecting the Laws from Heaven meant to protect humanity and 80,000 chemicals on and in the Earth we still do not have one Titanium Tesla Turbine connected to Tesla's AC power generator running directly off of Geothermal Steam such as salt brine only possible with the Tesla Turbine and with ZERO POLLUTION ever emitted to harm anyones health or the enviroment. Enough Geothermal Steam under the Earth to power mans needs 250,000 times over. Anew: When money speaks the truth is silent...
Global warming is a myth we will have an ice age before the planet warms up to cause any danger. as for the coal plant let them come the economy is failing and it is the cheapest way to supply electricity. If your worried about the Environment go boycott in China, if anyone is going to destroy the planet it is them.
If it were such a great project, why did Colorado, the state that will apparently buy most of the power generated, not want it on their soil? They didn't want to use the water (for power generation) that they owe to Kansas; so now they'll get their electricity, and laugh about the Kansans whose precious water will be used for Colorado's benefit. All for 88 permanent jobs. What a farce.' And Mr Anon #1, please don't cite bogus technical points about hot spots in the troposphere. Come out of your cave and read the data on the warming trend that is agreed upon by scientists (except for a few on the payroll of big oil).