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Kansas coal plant fight back in court; emission concerns cited

By Carey Gillam

(Reuters) - A long-running battle over coal-fired energy in Kansas continued Friday as the Sierra Club environmental group filed a legal challenge to the state's issuance of a permit intended to give a green light to a controversial new power plant.

The complaint, filed in the Kansas Court of Appeals, names the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and its secretary, Robert Moser, as defendants, and claims the permit for the new power plant does not meet federal and state requirements.

The complaint argues state regulators merely reissued a permit that was slightly modified after being struck down as invalid by the Kansas Supreme Court. ((http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/1944-petition-review.pdf))

"It's a never-ending saga," said Amanda Goodin, a lawyer for environmental law group Earthjustice who is representing the Sierra Club. "Now they have reissued the permit virtually unchanged. So we are challenging it again."

The fight, which has been brewing for several years, is focused on the Sunflower Electric Cooperative and its plans to build an 895-megawatt, coal-fired power plant at the site of an existing plant in Holcomb, Kansas.

Kansas, as a result, has moved to the forefront of a national debate over the environmental effects of coal-based plants and alternative energy sources.

In 2010, then-Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson ousted a state regulator who refused to issue a permit for the plant, and in December of that year a successor issued a permit. But the Sierra Club challenged the permit, saying it failed to comply with the federal Clean Air Act as well as with state law. The Kansas Supreme Court agreed and nullified the permit.

In its challenge to the new permit, the Sierra Club states the new plant will cause "serious harm to human health and the environment" and says it was issued by an unlawful procedure. The permit does not include adequate emissions limits, the complaint alleges.

The state said the allegations are not valid.

"The permit and addendum that have been issued are in compliance with all current state and federal laws," said Sara Belfry, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. She said the department had no further comment.

A Sunflower spokeswoman said the company was still reviewing the lawsuit and did not have a comment.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy)

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