Kansas and coal

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of Global Energy Monitor and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.


Coal production is a relatively minor part of the Kansas economy. In 2004, the state produced 71,000 short tons of coal worth approximately $1.4 million dollars, which ranked it 25th in the nation in coal production.[1] Bituminous coal deposits are located in the eastern part of the state and have high sulfur content, averaging about 4 percent by weight.[2]

The state consumed over 22 million short tons of coal for electrical power in 2004,[1] producing approximately 73 percent of the electricity generated in Kansas. The state's average retail price of electricity is 6.89 cents per kilowatt hour, the 13th lowest rate in the nation.[3] In 2003, Kansas emitted 80 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, ranking it 26th in the nation overall.[4]

Westar Energy settles clean air lawsuit filed by Justice Department and EPA

On February 4, 2009, the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency filed a clean air lawsuit against Westar, claiming the company updated a coal plant in Kansas without installing modern pollution controls. The suit alleges that Westar's 1,857 MW Jeffrey Energy Center has violated the Clean Air Act for over a decade.[5]

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. district court in Kansas City and cites Westar for violating the 'new source review' portion of the Clean Air Act. A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to estimate how much Westar may face in fines. The largest fine in a new source review lawsuit was a $1.4 billion settlement with American Electric Power.[5]

In response to the suit, Westar issued a statement saying:[5]

We have known for more than six years, and have even publicly disclosed, that the Department of Justice at some point might file a lawsuit.

We are good environmental stewards, and that is why over the last several years, we have invested nearly $500 million to remove up to 90 percent of the very emissions that the EPA has targeted with its complaint. We also expect to invest more than $1 billion in additional equipment over the next five years. A graphic detailing our target emissions reductions appears with this statement.

On January 25, 2010, Westar Energy agreed to spend $500 million to reduce sulfur dioxide pollution at its Jeffrey Energy Center in Kansas by installing scrubbers by the end of 2014. The company said it had opted to settle rather than to litigate.[6]

Holcomb (Sunflower) Plant Controversy

Kansas Coal Wars 3

October 2007, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rob Bremby denied a permit to regional wholesale power supplier Sunflower Electric Power Corporation to build two new power plants at its Holcomb Station, as part of the Holcomb Expansion, in western Kansas.[7] The decision set off a protracted battle between Governor Sebelius and the Kansas legislature, which attempted to override the veto. On March 21, 2008, Governor Sebelius vetoed a bill that would have permitted the power plants and stripped the Department of Health of the power to deny such permits in the future if they held utilities to standards stricter than those in the federal Clean Air Act permits for the construction of new coal-fired energy plants in Kansas. Sibelius said, "We know that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change. As an agricultural state, Kansas is particularly vulnerable. Therefore, reducing pollutants benefits our state not only in the short term – but also for generations of Kansans to come."[8]

Anti-Sebelius ad campaign

Following the October, 2007, decision by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, newspapers across Kansas ran an ad by Kansans for Affordable Energy that featured the faces of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The ad asked, “why are these men smiling?” The answer, according to the ad, was: "Because the recent decision by the Sebelius Administration means Kansas will import more natural gas from countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran." Unmentioned in the ad, however, is the fact that Kansans for Affordable Energy is partially funded by Sunflower Electric Power Corp. and the Peabody Coal Company. Sunflower Electric is the company whose permits for new coal plants were rejected by Sebelius’s administration.[9]

The Washington Post characterized the ads as extremely misleading, since not only does Kansas not "currently export natural gas to other states,” but the U.S. doesn’t even “currently import natural gas from Russia, Venezuela or Iran.”[9]

Bob Kreutzer, a founder of Kansans for Affordable Energy, admitted that the link between Sebelius and Ahmadinejad, et al. may have been “a little bit extreme.”[9]

Sebelius called the ads “over the top nonsense,” adding: "Anyone who would associate our state with the controversial and disreputable world leaders pictured in this ad fundamentally misunderstands and disrespects the people of Kansas."[9]

Anti sebelius ad16.gif

Bill 2182

Introduced in 2009, Bill 2182 makes no mention of the Holcomb plant, but it would effectively strip Health Secretary Rob Bremby and the Department of Health and the Environment of their power to regulate industry based on air quality concerns, and therefore force them to grant the permits to Sunflower.[10]

Blogger Simran Sethi wrote:

Because of high disapproval rates around the building of new plants, the predominantly Republican legislature has been wary of casting a strictly pro-coal vote. But according to Scott Allegrucci of the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy (GPACE), Bill 2182 "is cleverly written to allow some legislators who sustained the 2008 vetoes to vote for the coal plants this time, while giving them the ability to tell their constituents that they only voted for 'regulatory certainty,' not coal plants." In Wednesday's discussion of the bill, proponent Amy Blankenbiller of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce stated, "We are not here today to talk about environmental regulation, but to talk about due process, regulatory process."[11]

On April 3, 2009, the bill was sent to the Governor's office for approval. Gov. Sebelius has vowed to veto the legislation. The bill fell 10 votes short of the number needed to override the anticipated veto. Lawmakers may attempt an override when they return for the legislative wrap-up session in late April.[12]

As expected, Governor Sebelius vetoed the legislation on April 13, 2009. In her comments, she said, "I encourage the legislature to abandon its efforts to saddle Kansas with massive new carbon dioxide emissions, and instead adopt a plan that will take advantage of our enormous wind assets and really look at energy efficiency as a way to stretch our power sources well into the future while creating thousands of sustainable Kansas jobs."[13]

New Governor reverses Sebelius's decisions

On May 4, 2009, in a reversal of former Governor Sebelius' position, new Governor Mark Parkinson announced an agreement with Sunflower Electric Power Corporation that will allow construction of an 895 MW plant. The proposal permits power from the Holcomb Station to be exported to electric cooperatives in Colorado and Texas, with about 200 MW remaining in Kansas. Under the agreement, which was brokered with no public knowledge and announced only once it was signed, Sunflower will attempt to reduce emissions by shutting several dirtier plants. The agreement also contains a provision sought by Sunflower and its allies to limit the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's power to regulate greenhouse gases and other pollutants. In exchange for allowing construction of Sunflower's coal plant, legislators are required to pass a bill enacting renewable energy measures sought by Parkinson.[14][15][16]

Parkinson immediately came under fire from fellow Democrats and environmentalists, who had long fought the Holcomb plant. Critics charged that although the new governor touted the concessions made by Sunflower, many were already planned by the utility before the deal was made. As part of the agreement, Sunflower must build two new transmission lines to help export Kansas wind energy westward; however, the company had already planned to build the new lines even before the compromise. Also as part of the agreement, Sunflower promised to decommission two outdated oil-fired power plants in Garden City, but according to the company, those oil burners have not been used in over two decades. The Parkinson deal also strips Kansas’s top regulator of the discretion he used to reject the plants in 2007, a change environmental groups say will make it easier for other utilities to build more coal plants in the state.[17]

Groups Challenge Holcomb Plant

On June 22, 2009, Earthjustice and the Kansas Sierra Club sent a letter to the Kansas Department of Health Environment calling for a public comment period on the revived Holcomb proposal. A Health Department spokesperson said the agency was reviewing the letter and would consider the request.[18]

On July 1, 2009, EPA notified Sunflower Electric and the state of Kansas that Sunflower must apply for a new air quality permit before the Holcomb expansion can move forward. The air permit process will require new environmental impact analyses and allow for the public comment period called for by Earthjustice and the Sierra Club.[19]

On July 31, 2009, Sierra Club and Earthjustice filed a request in U.S. District Court to force the federal Rural Utilities Service to study the environmental impacts of the Holcomb expansion and look for alternative options to generate electricity. According to the lawsuit, the RUS must sign off on the plant because the agency guaranteed past construction loans.[20]

On January 13, 2010, Sunflower filed a new application with the state to build the 895 MW plant. The company says the new plant would meet state and federal air pollution regulations.[21]

On January 14, 2011 the Sierra Club and Earthjustice filed a petition in the Kansas Court of Appeals, seeking to halt construction of the plant on the grounds that the permit violates the Clean Air Act. The Sierra Club's petition stated that the permit allows excessive amounts of mercury and other hazardous toxins to be released by the plant.[22]

Citizen activism

March 19, 2009: Anti-coal protesters gather outside Statehouse in Topeka

Over 200 Kansas residents rallied on Statehouse grounds to protest Bill 2182, which would resurrect the proposed Holcomb Expansion and Westar Energy Kansas Plant projects. The group included environmentalists opposed to coal, steelworkers pushing to build wind turbines, rural advocacy groups, and a Christian minister. The bill has passed both the House and the Senate, but the Governor has promised to veto the measure in its current form.[23]


Legislative issues

In 2009, Fort Scott Republican Bob Marshall inserted into legislation endorsed by plant-applicant Sunflower Electric Power Corp. and signed into law by Gov. Mark Parkinson a provision requiring 5 percent of coal burned in any new power unit to have been mined in Kansas. The coal clause was among several designed to convince reluctant legislators to open the door to Sunflower's quest for the $2.2 billion Holcomb Expansion. Yet Sunflower's subsequent application for an air-quality permit for the new Holcomb plant didn't take into account use of Kansas coal. Email traffic between Sunflower and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment indicated Kansas coal, which has a higher sulfur content, wasn't factored into computer modeling on emissions critical to KDHE's authorization in December 2010 to proceed with the project. Correspondence produced as a result of a Kansas Open Records Act indicate Sunflower officials helped KDHE write an explanation why the 5 percent coal provision could be sidestepped.

Cindy Hertel, spokeswoman for the Hays-based Sunflower, said she viewed as premature suggestions the Kansas company and a major business partner, Tri-State Electric Generation and Transmission Association in Denver, would never rely upon Kansas coal. Sunflower and Tri-State have business interests in Powder River Basin coal in Wyoming. Sunflower might make coal from Kansas a piece of the fuel mixture at some point, Hertel said.

Stephanie Cole, spokeswoman for the the Sierra Club's chapter in Kansas, said layering the bill with a Kansas coal teaser demonstrated how the process was twisted by Sunflower and its political allies to gain House and Senate support for a project blocked by Democrat Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2007. Her successor, Mark Parkinson, negotiated the deal approved by legislators in 2009.

Gatewood, of Columbus, said the majority of electricity to be produced at the new Sunflower unit would be transferred to consumers in other states: "Why would they consider using Kansas products," he said. "The product they're producing won't be going to Kansas."[24]

Proposed coal plants



Citizen groups

Coal lobbying groups

Power companies

Existing coal plants

Kansas is 23rd in the nation in coal power generation, with 16 operating coal-fired power stations totaling 5,473 megawatts (MW).[25][26]

13 of these units are larger than 50MW.[27][28]

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Major coal mines

As of 2010 there was approximately 1 active coal mines in Kansas with production of approximately 133 short tons per year.[29]



  1. 1.0 1.1 Mining in Kansas, National Mining Assocation, accessed June 2008. (Pdf)
  2. State Coal Profiles: Kansas, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008. (Pdf)
  3. "The Facts", America's Power, accessed June 2008.
  4. "Texas, Wyoming lead in emissions", USA Today, June 2, 2007.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Westar Energy Responds to EPA/U.S. Department of Justice Lawsuit," Earth Times, February 4, 2009.
  6. "Westar Settles Air Quality Suit For $3M, Plant Upgrade," Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2010.
  7. "Kansas Governor Rejects Two Coal-Fired Power Plants," Environmental News Service, 3/21/08
  8. "Kansas Governor Rejects Two Coal-Fired Power Plants," Environmental News Service, 3/21/08
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Matt Corley, "Coal Industry Smears Kansas Governor As Ahmadinejad Booster For Denying Air Permit," Think Progress, 11/7/07
  10. Simran Sethi, "What's The Matter With Kansas? The Fight Against Big Coal Hits the State Legislature, with National Repercussions," Huffington Post, 2/5/09
  11. Simran Sethi, "What's The Matter With Kansas? The Fight Against Big Coal Hits the State Legislature, with National Repercussions," Huffington Post, 2/5/09
  12. "Coal-plant and abortion measures head to Sebelius," Wichita Eagle, April 4, 2009.
  13. "As promised, Sebelius vetoes coal plant bill," Kansas City Star, April 13, 2009.
  14. Kansas lawmakers attempt another run at coal plant", Bernie Woodal, Reuters, May 5, 2009.
  15. Parkinson's pro-coal plan stiffs Sebelius", Yael T. Abouhalkah, Kansas City Star, May 4, 2009.
  16. "Kansas lawmakers working on bill to enact coal deal", John Hanna, Associated Press, May 6, 2009.
  17. David Klepper, "Coal-plant decision fires up critics," Kansas City Star, May 11, 2009.
  18. "Environmentalists seek hearing on Kansas coal plant," Associated Press, June 22, 2009.
  19. "Kansas Utility Faces New Permit Hurdles for Proposed Coal Plant," Environmental News Service, July 6, 2009.
  20. "Critics take new step to block Kansas coal plant," Associated Press, August 5, 2009.
  21. "Kan. Utility Files New Application for Coal Plant," Associated Press, January 13, 2009.
  22. "Appeal filed to halt Sunflower plant" Karen Dillon, The Kansas City Star, January 14, 2010.
  23. "Anti-coal groups converge on KS Statehouse," Kansas City Star, March 19, 2009.
  24. Tim Carpenter, "Sunflower avoiding 5% solution on coal" cjonline, July 3, 2011.
  25. Environmental Integrity Project, "Dirty Kilowatts: America’s Most Polluting Power Plants", July 2007.
  26. Dig Deeper, Carbon Monitoring for Action database, accessed June 2008.
  27. Power Plants in Kansas, Powerplantjobs.com, accessed June 2008.
  28. Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration website, accessed May 2008.
  29. "Coal Production and Number of Mines by State, County, and Mine Type, 2010" U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 2010.


Existing coal plants in Kansas

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