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Environmentalists Prevent Cleaner Power Plant Construction

How environmentalists stopped a new power plant — losing jobs and hurting the local population — without improving the environment.

by
Patrick Richardson

Bio

April 30, 2010 - 12:00 am

In 2007, Sunflower Electric Power Corporation proposed a state-of-the-art coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kansas. This plant represented a $3.5 billion investment in one of the most rural areas of the country, $78 million in annual payroll during the construction phase, and more than 300 permanent jobs and $15 million in payroll once it was completed.

The plant, with two 700-megawatt generators, would have used technology to limit emissions. It would have been a huge economic boon to an area which largely relies on the meatpacking industry, tourism, and agriculture for jobs.

Then a bureaucrat on the other end of the state killed it. “A lot of people would be at work right now if they hadn’t shot it down,” Sunflower spokeswoman Cindy Hertl said.

The first nail in the coffin of the plant was the denial of an air quality permit by Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Secretary Roderick L. Bremby. KDHE is sort of the EPA and U.S. Health Department all rolled into one. In denying the permit, Bremby said: “After careful consideration of my responsibility to protect the public health and environment from actual, threatened or potential harm from air pollution, I have decided to deny the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation application for an air quality permit.”

This was, keep in mind, before the U.S. Supreme Court issued that insane ruling that carbon dioxide could be regulated as a pollutant. [See correction below -- Ed.]

So, on the basis there might be a problem, Bremby axed the plant. Four bills and four vetoes later, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius left office to become secretary of health and human services.

It was so bad the Finney County Democratic Party Chair Lon Wartman left the party and issued a scathing rebuke to Sebelius.

Enter current Gov. Mark Parkinson.

A compromise was reached which would allow Sunflower to construct a plant with a single 895 mw generator. While this is to some degree a win, it’s now three years since the original proposal was laid down. This smaller plant will inject fewer jobs and less money into the state economy, and ground won’t even be broken if they can’t get the clean air permit they need to start construction (Bremby is still at KDHE). If the permit is issued, and that’s a big if, there’s still months of public comment and hearings needed before the first spadeful of dirt can be turned.

Presumably, when — barring something insane happening in November — Sen. Sam Brownback becomes governor, there will be a new KDHE secretary and the permit will be issued.

This far from solves the problem however, as President Barak Obama is still pushing his cap and trade proposals. While he’s tried to walk the comment back, he is on record as saying he wants to bankrupt the coal industry.

The whole mess highlights the truth about the radical environmental movement.

The truth is that no matter what we do, it’s never enough. Drive a hybrid? No good, it still uses gas. What about electric? No — byproducts of battery construction are toxic. They even put roadblocks in the way of wind farms on the grounds that they use too much land — and might kill birds.

Wind of course has it’s own issues. Kansas currently generates more than a gigawatt of electricity via wind power and is ranked behind only Texas in potential for generating electricity in this fashion.

Of course, this has it’s own issues. According to a report by kansasreporter.org, since most of the power generated by the Kansas wind farms will not be used here, it will have to be transmitted elsewhere. A further issue is that the heavy transmission lines do not exist. So now it must be decided who will pay for the lines — lines which the enviros will probably try to prevent from being constructed. There have already been several instances of the green movement attempting to block the construction of power lines in places like New Jersey and Virginia.

The reality is these Luddites hate technology in all forms, consider humanity a parasitic species, and in true Malthusian fashion believe the world would just be a better place if we weren’t in it.

Of course they don’t mean them, just the rest of us, i.e., the unwashed masses who “just don’t get it.”

Please understand, I’m not for pollution. As a hunter and outdoorsman, it irritates me in the extreme to be walking a field after pheasant or out fishing and find trash or old tires scattered all over.

We all want a clean environment, clean air and water, and clean forests for our kids to walk in and hunt in. But most of us have a sense of balance. We realize humans are part of the environment as much as anything else. We also have a right to exist.

In the Central Plains especially, we understand the link to the land. We also realize that without modern refinements like pesticides and fertilizers the entire world would be starving. One Kansas farmer feeds 150 people, compared to 19 in 1940.

Once again the law of unintended consequences comes up to bite the radical greens on the backside — much as it did after we all bought Rachel Carson’s garbage in Silent Spring and banned DDT. A few decades later and millions have died of malaria. Common-sense regulations on the use of DDT would have saved millions of lives.

We need common sense where power plants are concerned as well.

According to Hertl, Sunflower isn’t married to coal to fuel the plant.

“We are not coal biased,” she said. “We are cost biased. If it becomes unaffordable we’ll pursue other options.”

In other words, they’ll use natural gas, biomass, old tires, or wood if they’re cheap and will provide Kansans with the power and jobs they need.

That’s just common sense.

[Correction: As commenter Scott Allegrucci notes below, in fact the Supreme Court EPA decision came before the permit was denied.  PJM regrets the error.]

Patrick Richardson has been a journalist for almost 15 years and an inveterate geek all his life. He blogs regularly at www.otherwheregazette.com, which aims to be like another SF magazine, just not so serious.
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