J500 Media and the Environment

Why are these Kansans smiling? by Chardonnay

This ad ran in newspapers all over Kansas the week after Rod Bremby, Secretary of the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment, denied permits to two coal-power plants on the basis of excessive carbon emissions.

This ad was funded by Kansans for Affordable Energy, a coal-industry-funded advocacy group. This ad warns that Bremby’s decision will make us all the more dependent on foreign powers for our natural gases.

This ad, Bremby pointed out last night when he spoke at the KU Dole Institute of Politics, forgets to mention that Kansas imports 96 percent of its natural gas from Canada (and absolutely none from Russia, Venezuela or Iran).

And that was just one myth that Bremby dispelled to members of the Lawrence community. He was welcomed with a standing ovation and took his time explaining why he made the decision. Perhaps surprising to some, the list did not include an affinity for standing ovations, hugging trees, or Ahmadinejad.

-A great majority of the plant’s energy would go to Oklahoma and Colorado, not Kansas
-The chances that the denied facility would simply rebuild in another location are slim
-The emission levels would reach unprecedented heights, matching the carbon footprints of 628,000 Americans
-This is not just a decision of today, but a forty- or fifty-year decision

And of course, that pesky issue of global warming. I liked that Bremby approached this point from a sensible, not polarizing, point of view. He didn’t aim to convert global warming skeptics, but instead referred back to the goal of the KDHE: to protect the health and environment of all Kansans.

As a bureaucrat, it would be irresponsible for me to ignore contributions of CO2 to climate change and health.

He went on to speak about global efforts to reduce and conserve, then outlined his hopeful view of a new, sustainable economy that must be in our near future. In my opinion, he threw out some overly optimistic and weakly supported figures, but his heart’s in the right place.

He closed with a cartoon that made my pun-loving boyfriend and I struggle to stifle our laughs as to not interrupt his closing words, but I can’t find it online! Instead of scanning in the pathetic replication I sketched in my notebook last night (what can I say, I was inspired), I’ll just describe it.

Picture in your mind’s eye: a potted flower flexing his muscles and the punchline: “Environmentalism: Kansas’ newest power plant.”

Oh Rod, with that you won my heart.

-Sonya English


10 Comments so far
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Thank you for covering the Dole Institute conversation. The Crowson cartoon can be found at the Wichita Eagle site…www.kansas.com. Crowson is a brilliant cartoonist. Be Well, Rod

Comment by Rod

Yesterday the KS Senate gave final approval to a bill that would strip the power Mr. Bremby used last year to reject the Holcomb plants, and allow Sunflower to seek another permit. The Wichita Eagle is running a poll regarding the Governor’s planned veto of this bill.
Please take a look and weigh in.

Mr. Bremby, In addition to carbon dioxide, coal-fired plants are the largest source of mercury contamination in the country. Was there any consideration of rejecting the coal plants on those grounds since carbon emissions as connected to climate change seem to be a subject of controversy? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Thanks for joining in this conversation,
Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

Re: grounds for rejection

Not to mention the huge amounts of water that coal plants require – doesn’t this area of the state need all the water they have for farming and drinking?

Sarah Hemme

Comment by shemme


Great post, Sonya–and thanks, Mr. Bremby for chiming in.

I really wish I could have been there to see a true hero–thanks, Mr. Bremby, for standing up to a power plant that would not only be harmful to our environment but will also be obsolete in a matter of years. With government regulations almost certain, this type of energy will be even less cost-effective soon…in fact, many other states are also seeing the writing on the wall, and rejecting coal power plants on the basis of both harm and cost.

Oh, and Eric Crowson is brilliant!

Thanks for the detailed report, Sonya. I was part of that standing ovation if only in spirit.


Comment by rarab

Check out this cartoon from the Wichita Eagle

Comment by genghiskuhn

Ahh well Mr. Bremby emailed me a nice note but hasn’t chimed back in. Sarah, you bring up an excellent point about water usage, as evidenced by our field trip. What we learned was that coal plants are situated close to bodies of water (the plants require water to generate steam). In Lawrence, the water is drawn from the Kansas River, used by the plant, passed through several sludging pools, and, when cooled, returned to the river. The river that is also our primary source of drinking water. Coal plants give us cheap energy but have many costly side effects. You can learn more here.

Comment by j500

I couldn’t get that link to work, John. Re-send– I love cartoons. One-a-day cartoon calendars last only a few months for me.

In this class, I find it’s really easy to feel like “caring about the environment” is more than an issue of respect for Mother Earth, that it’s an issue of sustainability of life on Earth. However, a 31-7 vote makes me feel like maybe it’s our little secret. Whether this issue is resonating with people depends on the lens you’re looking through. Mr. Bremby is brave and respectable. I wish, though, that instead of being blown away by his backbone that we could say, of course he rejected the permits– why wouldn’t he?

Sonya English

Comment by Sonya

I think Mr. Bremby’s case is building at the federal level. Here is his written testimony from his appearance yesterday at the House Select Committee on .
Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Hearing on “Massachusetts v. U.S. EPA Part II: .
Implications of the Supreme Court Decision”.

“Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am Roderick L. Bremby, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. I appreciate the opportunity to testify on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, No. 05-1120, slip op. (U.S., April 2, 2007), and how the decision related to my denial of the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation’s (Sunflower Electric) permit for the addition of two 700-megawatt coal-fired generators. I will also address the legal and policy implications of EPA’s failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. .

This responsibility is exercised through the regulation of health and environmental entities in Kansas including childcare centers, food service businesses, hospitals, laboratories, feedlots, landfills, power plants, and various other industries with environmental impacts. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also manages programs dedicated to providing disease surveillance and prevention efforts, bioterrorism planning, local and rural health assistance, health care and environmental protection information, and statewide health promotional campaigns. .

In keeping with the agency mission and to secure its vision of “healthy Kansans living in safe and sustainable environments,” in October 2007 I made the decision to deny the permit request of Sunflower Electric, which if granted, would have allowed the emission of an estimated 11 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually. .
Basis for the Sunflower Electric Permit Decision.

The Massachusetts v. EPA decision was highly influential in the State of Kansas’ decision to deny the petition of Sunflower Electric to construct a coal-fired power plant. The Supreme Court’s finding that greenhouse gases are an air pollutant within the meaning of the federal Clean Air Act supports and confirms my own determination that CO2 constitutes air pollution within the meaning of the Kansas Air Quality Act. .

Under the Kansas Air Quality Act, the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has broad authority to protect the health of Kansas citizens and the environment. The process for obtaining an air quality permit includes a technical review of a permit application as well as a comment period to solicit input on the proposed permit from the public. Upon consideration of the permit record as a whole and pursuant to the legal authority of K.S.A. 65-3008a(b) and K.S.A. 65-3012, the decision was made to deny the permit. The former statute provides that a decision on an air quality permit may be affirmed, modified or reversed after the public hearing. The latter statute allows the Secretary to take such action as necessary to protect the health of persons or the environment, notwithstanding a permit applicant’s compliance with all other existing provisions of the Kansas Air Quality Act. Action under K.S.A. 65-3012 requires information that the emission of air pollution presents a substantial endangerment to the health of persons or to the environment. Endangerment may be a threatened or potential harm as well as an actual harm. .

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA was a key consideration in making the Sunflower Electric decision. The Court’s recognition of the significant national and international information available on the deleterious impact of greenhouse gases on the environment, and its conclusion that the greenhouse gas, CO2, meets the broad definition of air pollutant under the Clean Air Act provided support for the position I took that CO2 also meets the similarly broad definition of air pollution under the Kansas Air Quality Act. The Court’s decision, the Kansas Attorney General Opinion supporting my interpretation of K.S.A. 65-3012, the reports of the International Panel on Climate Change, and the extensive administrative record – including comments submitted at the public hearings held in regard to the Sunflower Electric permit application – all contributed to my conclusion that the CO2 emissions from the proposed Sunflower Electric expansion would constitute a substantial endangerment to the citizens of Kansas and our environment. .
Effect of EPA’s Failure to Regulate Greenhouse Gases.

EPA’s failure to determine one way or the other whether greenhouse gases “cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare” has impacted the State of Kansas’ ability to enforce and maintain the authority stemming from state law to protect the public health and environment from actual, threatened or potential harm from air pollution. .

Unless and until EPA acts, its failure to regulate greenhouse gases has significantly – and adversely – affected Kansans. The Kansas Legislature has recently passed a bill that will serve to tether greenhouse gas emission control in our state directly to what EPA will do … or fail to do. The “Sunflower Electric bill” (House Substitute for S.B. 327) provides that I, as Secretary of KDHE, may not promulgate any rule or regulation, or issue any order or take any other action under any provision of the Kansas Air Quality Act that is more “stringent, restrictive, or expansive” than required by the CAA or any rule or regulation adopted thereunder by EPA. Governor Sebelius has expressed her intention to veto the Sunflower Electric bill, which passed with votes insufficient for an override, but that may change. .

Until EPA takes action on regulating greenhouse gases, we in Kansas will be limited in our ability to aggressively address CO2 emissions. Given the unambiguous requirement in the CAA that CO2 emissions be regulated and reduced, it would make sense from both a human health and business perspective for EPA to issue its regulations as quickly as possible. .
Impact of EPA Decision to Regulate GHG Emissions on Kansas Dispute.

EPA’s issuance of an endangerment finding or notice of any intent to promulgate federal regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources would further support my decision to regulate CO2 emissions in Kansas, which was appealed to the Kansas Court of Appeals, the District Court of Finney County, Kansas, and the Office of Administrative Hearings of the State of Kansas. The Kansas Supreme Court has taken up the appeals filed in the Court of Appeals on its own motion, and the proceedings in the district court and office of administrative appeals are stayed, pending disposition of the appeals by the Supreme Court. .

In denying Sunflower Electric’s permit application, I found that its proposal to construct two new coal-fired power plant units poses a substantial endangerment to Kansans and our environment. That finding is well supported by the extensive administrative record, and I stand by it. EPA’s issuance of an endangerment finding would support my determination, but is not necessary for it. Similarly, my authority to take action in regard to greenhouse gas emissions – and therefore deny Sunflower Electric’s permit application – was based on the Kansas Air Quality Act. Therefore, EPA’s notice of intent to regulate would support my exercising the authority granted to me by Kansas law, but is not necessary to it. However, EPA’s decision to regulate GHG emissions would be critical to alleviating the so-called “regulatory uncertainty” and thus economic uncertainty I have been alleged to have created by denying the Sunflower Electric permit. .

The most critical challenge facing the states is policy uncertainty at the federal level. In the absence of federal legislation or regulation in this area and with the potential for enactment of the legislation currently pending in Kansas, it would be impossible for Kansas to protect the health of its citizens and the environment from the effects of CO2. . .”

Source: Salina.com


Comment by j500

Well done by Mr. Bremby. I like the simplification that without federal regulations, it is impossible for Kansas to protect its citizens from the health dangers of high CO2 emissions. It’s a smaller scale re-implication that climate change is everyone’s problem, and unless we’re all on the same team, change will be a hard-fought battle. That having been said, I’m confident in Bremby as a soldier.

Comment by Sonya


Sorry for the delayed response. Mercury limits were under the federal/state permited limits. Thus denial was not a consideration for that pollutant. Water rights are handled by another agency (Agriculture), and were not a consideration for permit issuance by KDHE. Again, thanks for the consideration and interest in this issue. Be Well, Rod

Comment by Rod Bremby

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