Damage Control

On a Friday evening in late May, telephones were ringing in Atchison, Kansas. They rang all over the small industrial and farm towns of Platte County in Missouri, too. Folks got the call in Parkville and around Platte Woods.

The phone rang at Jody Jones’ place, a fenced-in house with yellow siding on a street paved with Atchison’s nostalgic red bricks. She answered, then spoke for 20 minutes with a surveyor from a Las Vegas market-research company called IHR. As soon as she hung up, she dialed her neighbor across the street, Beatrice Shisler.

“You’ll never believe what just happened,” Jones told her. “I just took a survey all about those power plants, and you have to be really careful how you answer.”

She was talking about plans by Kansas City, Missouri-based Great Plains Energy Inc. — the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light — to plop two massive, coal-fired power plants on farmland just outside her town. Shisler had been concerned since she read about the company’s plans in the Atchison Daily Globe. It was one of the issues that peppered her conversations with Shisler, which also revolved around their kids, their dogs and Shisler’s efforts to get her long-neglected three-story house into historic-register condition.

Jones and Shisler had each moved to Atchison within the past couple of years. Shisler had fallen in love with the old architecture and the bridge named for hometown hero Amelia Earhart. The small-town life made Atchison seem like a good place to raise a family. Or it did, anyway — the prospect of an 800-megawatt power plant nearby raised some doubts.

Half an hour after calling Jones’ house, IHR called Shisler’s, too. By dusk, the two women were standing on either side of Jones’ waist-high chain-link fence, comparing their answers to the survey’s questions.

People who took the survey recall that the questions forced them to choose which was more important: creating jobs or protecting the environment. One question asked whether they’d be willing to pay 20 percent, 10 percent or 5 percent more on their energy bills for cleaner air. The survey also asked about economic growth, political affiliations and opinions on political figures such as Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Kay Barnes. But for the most part, the questions were about power plants and mercury pollution.

Shisler, and all of her neighbors, felt sure that the callers were working on behalf of Great Plains Energy. “It makes me mad that they’re going to use my answers to misrepresent me, because of the way the questions were worded,” Shisler would say later. “They’ll think, ‘Oh, people in Atchison, they think jobs are more important than the environment. OK, let’s just put that coal-fired power plant in Atchison. They don’t know much about the environment. They’re not going to come out and protest.'”

Across the river in Missouri, the Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club had been the first to discover Great Plains’ plans to build a plant 4 miles outside picturesque and historic Weston. Last May, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a public notice that Great Plains had applied for permits to build the 800-megawatt coal-burning unit.

Such a plant would power roughly 640,000 homes, and with it would come serious health risks. Burning coal releases nitrogen oxide, which contributes to low-lying ozone. Ozone damages respiratory tissue and increases the incidence of lung diseases. Burning coal also releases airborne contaminants that have been linked to asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, heart disease, strokes and birth defects. One byproduct of burning coal is mercury, which can cause deformities in developing fetuses and damage the liver and kidneys. In recent years, studies have postulated that mercury could be linked to autism and learning disabilities.

The Environmental Protection Agency has just lowered its limits for acceptable ozone levels, creating another cause for concern when it comes to major polluters like power plants. Observers expect that Kansas City’s air quality will fail to meet federal standards by late this summer.

By the time Jones and Shisler took the telephone survey, lots of northland residents knew about Great Plains’ plans to build one 800-megawatt power plant on land it already owned in Weston, next to its 630-megawatt Iatan power plant. They also knew that Great Plains wanted to build a second 800-megawatt plant 10 miles from the Weston site, in Atchison. Combined, the plants would have the capacity to produce energy for about 1.3 million households — more than three times the number of households in the Kansas City metro area today, according to 2000 U.S. Census figures.

“What bothers me the most is that they’re lying,” Shisler said after the phone survey in late May. “This is the Bible Belt, where people are trusting. And they’re lying to us.”

People in Atchison could smell two things a mile away: the fermenting of grain alcohol at Midwest Grain Products (which is made into cheap vodka at McCormick’s Distillery in Weston) and slick corporate spin.

Corporate spin No. 1

We’re not doing anything newsworthy.

On July 2, The Kansas City Star‘s business section heralded the news that Great Plains Energy had suddenly abandoned its plans for a second power plant in Atchison. Now the company’s CEO, Michael Chesser, was saying that Great Plains would generate 200 megawatts using wind power and add better pollution controls to two of its existing plants.

This looked like a victory for opponents who had been fighting the power plants for months. But it could be just another headline for northlanders to decode after they’ve spent an exhausting year tracking the company’s vague and ever-changing messages.

On September 23, 2003, the Star‘s Steve Everly reported that Great Plains Energy had hired a new CEO, Michael Chesser. Everly wrote, “[Great Plains] also has a subsidiary to build independent power plants, but those plans have been shelved for now.”

That came as a big surprise to Melissa Blakley. Working under a 3-month grant to research power plants for the Sierra Club, Blakley had studied the way Great Plains Energy sought permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to begin major construction projects. She fired off an e-mail to Everly at the Star.

“Actually, their plans seem to have not been shelved,” Blakley wrote. “GPP [Great Plains Power, a subsidiary of KCPL] submitted public notice to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build an 850-megawatt unregulated coal-fired power plant near its Iatan plant in May, 2003.”

Everly replied right away, Blakley says, noting that the company’s spokesman had said nothing about new power plants and asking Blakley to keep him informed.

Blakley had been struggling for more than two months to get the Corps of Engineers to agree to a public hearing about Great Plains’ projects before issuing permits for them. (The permitting process can stretch out for years.) The Corps finally agreed not to a public hearing but rather to an “informational meeting” at the Iatan power plant. Representatives from Missouri’s departments of natural resources, conservation, and fish and wildlife were invited, along with the Sierra Club, but neither the public nor the press were allowed.

“The media didn’t really believe this was happening,” Blakley says. So she did the media equivalent of tossing a bucket of blood into the water. “The day of the meeting, I sent a press release about a meeting regarding a project that the company hadn’t owned up to,” she says. “I decided not to tell the media that they would not be let in. I thought it would be quite effective if the media showed up at Iatan and were not let in. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.”

Had reporters been allowed into the meeting, they would have learned that Great Plains Energy hoped to build two plants.

Blakley says the Sierra Club suspected there might be plans for the Atchison plant. “We saw a KCPL document they sent to the Department of Natural Resources that seemed to reference another plant, so we had a hint but didn’t really know,” she says. “Then in the meeting, they actually talked about it.”

After the Iatan meeting, Blakley headed to the Star to tell Everly what he’d missed. “The next day, he had an article, and one the day after,” Blakley recalls.

At first, the company seemed to have been caught off-guard. In the October 30 Star article, Great Plains Energy spokesman Tom Robinson said that construction on the plant near Weston could begin in 2004, depending on factors such as market conditions for selling wholesale power. The next day’s newspaper reported what went on to become the Great Plains mantra: Although Great Plains Energy was trying to get permits for the two plants, it hadn’t made a final decision about when or even whether to build them.

Nonetheless, the announcement of a possible second power plant resulted in spit takes from civic leaders in Atchison. Mayor Dan Garrity and Commissioner George Ross Jr. both told The Atchison Daily Globe that they’d known nothing about the power company’s plans.

This spring, John Grimwade, KCPL’s manager of energy-resource management, admitted on KCUR 89.3’s Up to Date that the company hadn’t been forthright.

“I think the issue of how the information to the public has been probably a little less than what we would have liked to have done,” he told host Steve Kraske on May 15.

“Are you saying you wish you’d handled things differently?” Kraske asked.

“In hindsight,” Grimwade answered, “looking at controversy that’s arisen, obviously we would have probably liked to have had a little bit more open an approach with that, yes.”

Corporate spin No. 2

Power plants don’t cause

mercury poisoning.

Great Plains sees its manifest destiny in the grasses and wetlands that border the Missouri River. Others have been fighting that vision for months.

Susan Brown lives in Dearborn, Missouri, with her husband and two kids at the top of a long, pebbled driveway lined with trees. She grew up on a farm, so when her husband accidentally backed over the family’s black dog a month ago, her instinct said “Shoot.” Her husband was the one who insisted on taking the animal to the vet (it now lopes around the yard in a blue cast). Clearly, Brown is no bleeding heart. She says she joined the Sierra Club for the free backpack and swears she’s not really an environmentalist. She says power plants aren’t an environmental issue to her. They’re a health issue.

Brown was alarmed to read in the Sierra Club’s newsletter that the Weston Bend plant would be within 10 miles of her home. She started trolling the Internet for information on the health risks of burning coal. Her reading brought Brown to the subject of mercury, a metal in the earth’s crust and in coal.

Anything that flings rock around at high temperatures can potentially release mercury into the air. When it’s burned, elemental mercury becomes a gas that’s soluble and clings to water particles. Burning a charcoal briquet might release an incidental amount of mercury into the air, but power plants burn freightloads of coal every hour. The mercury clings to water particles in the air and eventually falls to the earth in rain and runs off into lakes and streams. Reacting with bacteria in water, some of this mercury will become poisonous methylmercury. Methylmercury is absorbed into the food chain from algae to little fish to big fish — to the people who eat them.

For customers who are concerned about mercury, KCPL provides a booklet titled “Straight Answers About Electric Utilities and Mercury” (published by the Edison Electric Institute). A short definition of methylmercury in the booklet adds, “Electric power plants do not release organic mercury, and, therefore, electric utilities do not emit methylmercury.”

It is true that coal-burning power plants don’t emit methylmercury. They do, however, emit the mercury that reacts with water particles, drops into rivers, streams and lakes, and becomes methylmercury. Arguing that methylmercury doesn’t come from power plants is a bit like saying Big Macs don’t come from cows.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issues an annual fish advisory, and largemouth bass have been singled out every year since 2001 for potentially dangerous mercury levels. The advisory urges pregnant women, nursing mothers and children not to eat largemouth bass caught in Missouri if the fish is longer than 12 inches.

For Brown, this translates to “Don’t eat fish. Any fish. Ever.”

Brown also worries that lakes and rivers in her area could become mercury hot spots — places where the measurable levels of mercury in fish tissues are at their highest. Preliminary EPA research indicates that hot spots occur in areas where local mercury emissions are high. Two 800-megawatt power plants next to the Missouri River could create a hot spot in a place where eating fish from the river is already discouraged.

At issue within the EPA right now is how it will regulate mercury emitted from power plants. The White House’s proposed Clear Skies Act suggests that mercury should be regulated the same way that, for instance, sulfur emissions are regulated: with a “cap and trade” program. If a utility has a power plant that’s spewing more sulfur than it’s supposed to, it can trade “credits” with another utility plant anywhere in the United States that is under its limit for sulfur emissions. For example, if Great Plains clustered its power plants around the Missouri River and each plant emitted more than its share of mercury, the company could trade for mercury credits with another company in, say, Oregon. That would be legal, but it could increase the hot-spot potential for Kansas City’s northland.

The EPA is re-examining its goal of a 70 percent cut in mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants by 2018. The agency is expected to hand down the first mercury regulations by December of this year. The cap-and-trade program for mercury and the Clear Skies initiative will likely undergo legislative debate during the next session of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In December 2003, Brown appeared on the front page of the The Platte County Landmark, where reporter Mark Vasto was beginning to write critically about KCPL’s proposed power plants. Vasto asked doctors to explain the effects of pollution on asthma sufferers. He followed the swelling opposition to the plants. And he began to expose KCPL’s doublespeak.

Vasto’s stories made a local celebrity out of Brown, who had prodded the leaders of a group called the Platte County Concerned Citizens to oppose Great Plains Energy. The owner of R.J.’s bar in Weston, who also is named Susan Brown, had to start explaining to her patrons that she was not the one making a fuss about power plants. The competing Platte County Citizen published a letter calling Brown “a bored housewife with Erin Brockovich fantasies.”

“I have a huge coalition up here,” Brown says. “These issues cross all political lines. It’s just a group of people — business people, Democrats, Republicans, everyone is concerned about their health and the health of their children and the elderly.”

Concerned Citizens started holding public information sessions, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and attended by representatives from the Sierra Club, EPA Region 7 and Terry Eaton, an environmental services manager at Great Plains Energy. Since January 8, people have met in cafeterias and gymnasiums at schools in Weston, Parkville, Liberty, St. Joseph, Camden Point, Leavenworth and Atchison. Grandmas in flag sweaters and mulleted men in mesh hats filled the folding chairs and raised their hands with questions.

At each, someone invariably asked, “Why here? And why coal?”

Corporate spin No. 3

We run the cleanest coal-fired

plant in the country.

KCPL’s Hawthorn plant, with its red-striped exhaust stack, is hard to miss. It’s a few miles down Front Street off Interstate 35, northeast of downtown. It was especially hard to miss back in February 1999, when it was on fire.

Company officials attributed an explosion there to a buildup of natural gas used to start the plant’s boiler. Hawthorn, which began operating in 1956, generates 15 percent of KCPL’s energy. Seventy-five percent of KCPL’s power comes from coal burned at four stations: Hawthorn, Iatan, Montrose and La Cygne. The rest comes from the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Burlington, Kansas, from natural gas plants in Gardner and Paola, and from a few “peakers” that run on fuel oil and only operate during the periods of highest demand.

KCPL rebuilt the Hawthorn plant. Now it burns 5,479 tons of coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin every day. (The Wyoming coal emits less sulfur than the locally mined coal the company used until 1990.) The plant uses the best-available technology to meet air-emission limits for some of the pollutants that create low-level ozone. President George W. Bush singled out the Hawthorn plant in his 2001 National Energy Policy Report as an example of a state-of-the-art coal-fired unit. The new plants proposed for Atchison and Weston are supposed to use the same technology as Hawthorn’s.

But, as has been widely reported, Hawthorn’s pollution controls haven’t been working properly. For most of the three years since the equipment was installed, it hasn’t reduced emissions to the levels that KCPL has bragged about.

The ash from the Wyoming coal was interfering with a chemical reaction meant to reduce the plant’s nitrogen oxide emissions. Meanwhile, to keep the unit working, KCPL poured extra ammonia (which converts harmful nitrogen oxide into a safer nitrogen gas) into the plant’s converter. But ammonia is a pollutant, too, and some of it escaped from the smokestack with the rest of the emissions.

Vasto, of the Landmark, requested a tour of the Iatan and Hawthorn plants in February. Media wranglers at KCPL told Vasto they would conduct tours for no fewer than 25 people. So Vasto invited Brown, her Concerned Citizens and the Sierra Club’s Blakley to tour the plants on February 27.

At the Hawthorn plant, KCPL officials gave the group fliers proclaiming that Hawthorn was the “cleanest coal-fired plant in the United States,” even though it wasn’t.

Because of the Hawthorn plant, the EPA last year cited KCPL for violating clean-air laws on 12 days in 4 months by emitting illegal amounts of sulfur dioxide, a major pollutant.

“At that meeting, they admitted to having problems,” Vasto says. When he asked when the Hawthorn plant was due to live up to its “cleanest” title, Great Plains Energy’s Eaton told him the company would fix it out of corporate pride.

Lisa Hanlon of the EPA tells the Pitch that the Hawthorn plant hasn’t earned any more violations for sulfur dioxide levels. And Jon Knodel, an EPA environmental engineer, says KCPL has tinkered with its equipment and processes over the past few months and that they now work.

Corporate spin No. 4

We’re not sure we’ll even build anything.

At least 65 new power plants are going up around the country, eight of those in the EPA’s Region 7, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

The area north of Kansas City along the Missouri River is a magnet for new coal-burning plants. That’s because power plants require a source of cold water. (The heat from burning coal combines with water to make steam, which forces turbines into motion to create electricity.) The plants also need rail lines so that trains can haul coal to them. And power plants can be built only where a U.S. Department of Natural Resources study for “air increments” has ensured that room is left in an area’s “airshed” for additional pollution. Weston (population 1,631, according to the 2000 U.S. Census) has air increments to spare.

Great Plains owns 562 acres adjacent to its Iatan plant. That area, just off State Highway 45, is all green fields. It’s a perfect spot for another plant.

Over the past few months, Great Plains Energy CEO Chesser consistently suggested that the company had no firm intention to build new plants — despite the fact that it had been applying for construction permits since November 2001.

“One coal plant is a major investment for a company our size … We haven’t made a decision to build one coal plant, and I sure as heck have not … I don’t consider it a strong possibility that we’ll build two,” Chesser told KCUR’s Matt Wycoff in May, according to a transcript of the radio report.

And after Great Plains Energy’s May 4 shareholders meeting at the Discovery Center on 47th Street and Troost, Chesser told reporters from the Landmark, the Star and other media: “I don’t think that it is a strong possibility we would be announcing the construction of two power plants.”

Susan Brown says Chesser is “pretty good — for an executive.” In March, Great Plains invited Brown and others to an informational session with company officials. Afterward, she chased down Chesser in the hallway to hand him a petition signed by Platte County residents asking that the company examine more closely how a power plant could affect residents’ health. Her 20-minute conversation with Chesser impressed her, she says. She adds that the comprehensive energy approach the company laid out at that meeting included much of what Concerned Citizens had been asking for — development of wind power, for instance.

Brown says she doesn’t blame Great Plains for doing what utilities do: in this case, building more power plants. She blames lawmakers for failing to offer incentives or penalties that would force utilities to act more in the interest of public health.

Before a power plant can be built, it must receive permits from the air, water and solid-waste divisions at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Kyra Moore, permit section chief for the DNR’s Air Pollution Control Program, says her division has turned down only one major air construction permit application (the main permit needed for construction) out of approximately 80 received in the past 20 years.

“It’s very rare for us to deny a permit of this size,” Moore says.

Corporate spin No. 5

This power is for you.

A merchant power plant — or, in industry lingo, an “unregulated plant” — is one that generates energy for a power company to sell on the open market. Regulated plants, however, must sell to all buyers in a specified area. (They’re called regulated because they have no market competition; they’re essentially monopolies that require oversight by a regulatory agency — in Missouri’s case, the state Public Service Commission — to make sure that customers get the best rates.)

So if a new plant is regulated, Great Plains can sell the power it generates only to its own customers. (The company says it serves 490,000 customers.)

However, if a plant is unregulated, the power goes to the highest bidder. That represents a bigger risk to Great Plains but also a bigger potential profit.

All of this made Platte County citizens wonder what, if not power, they would get in return for granting permission to make the air quality in their idyllic farm towns a little more like that of New Jersey.

In a May interview with The Kansas City Business Journal, Chesser didn’t specify whether the electricity from a new power plant would be for the company’s existing customers or for other utilities on the wholesale market. But the company’s permit applications for the Weston site indicate that it would be a merchant plant.

In light of those applications, Grimwade’s on-air claim in May that new plants would generate energy “for the region” sounded suspect.

Grimwade told 89.3’s Kraske on May 15, “From Kansas City Power and Light’s perspective, we are looking at the needs of the metropolitan area and for utilities around here. So within Missouri and Kansas for the most part.”

Even the good folks in charge of Platte County weren’t sure what was really going on — though they’re the ones who signed papers agreeing to help Great Plains finance a new plant.

By the end of June, Platte County Commissioner Steve Wegner was uncertain about the deal he and his two fellow commissioners had closed with Great Plains. When company officials approached county commissioners in 2001, he says, they talked about the county’s potential financial benefits from an unregulated plant built in Weston. A power plant, they said, would bring jobs during its construction and then permanent jobs as well as ongoing payments to the county. Great Plains said Platte County could take the deal or leave it — Great Plains could build 10 miles away in Atchison instead.

On December 12, 2002, the Board of Platte County Commissioners signed an agreement to issue up to $1 billion in bonds to finance construction of the facility.

The way the deal initially stood, Great Plains would build a plant that Platte County would eventually own, and Great Plains wouldn’t pay property taxes. Great Plains committed to making payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) to the county in the amount of $2.5 million a year. Those funds were contingent on Great Plains building a commercial, unregulated power plant. Wegner says he saw the PILOT funds as a way to help the West Platte School District.

And so Wegner saved an economic opportunity for Platte County from escaping across the river to Kansas. But after the deal went through, Great Plains appeared to change its mind about securing permits for a single plant in either Weston or Atchison. Now, it wanted permits for both. According to documents Great Plains later submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “When the permit application was submitted for Weston Bend, the Atchison site was an alternative. Now GPP is proceeding with simultaneous permitting of both sites. The two projects are NOT alternatives to each other.” It seemed Wegner and the other commissioners had fought to keep the deal in Platte County for nothing.

Wegner says that what he’s heard from Great Plains recently suggests that the new plant might be regulated after all.

“This is a whole new area for us, because we had always done our research on this being a merchant plant,” he says. “Now, if it is being regulated, it’s a whole new set of information we have to find and study and evaluate. Then again, we don’t really have a say in it, because now it’s between KCPL and the state of Missouri to decide [whether] to regulate it.”

Any talk of PILOT funds is pointless, Wegner says, “simply because I understand now they’re going for a regulated plant.”

Wegner says he trusts the government’s environmental regulations and KCPL’s word that any new plants will be built using the most current technology. But had the Weston plant been proposed as a regulated one, Wegner admits, “it would have been a completely different ballgame.” Nonetheless, he says, “We like to have electricity when we turn on the computer and when we go home at night.”

Wegner also leans on the assumption that a new plant will create jobs for his county, as KCPL’s Web site boasts, both in the construction phase and afterward, when skilled workers move to Platte County to operate the plant.

But Great Plains’ December 2003 environmental assessment says, “No significant population increases would occur with construction of the proposed Weston Bend I power plant, as workers would either commute from outlying areas or temporarily relocate.”

And in its environmental assessment, the company admits that, after it’s built, the plant would require approximately 85 employees to operate. “It is also unlikely that a permanent population increase would be expected for long-term operation of the plant, given the available workforce in the communities surrounding the plant,” the report states.

By the end of June, the benefits Great Plains first proposed, in order to get the county to help fund its plant, had evaporated.

Corporate spin No. 6

You want wind? So do we!

KCPL spokesman Tom Robinson wouldn’t comment for this article, and the Pitch‘s requests for an interview with CEO Chesser were denied. However, Great Plains Energy has created a short film that explains how open and honest the company really is. It’s now playing at a series of public forums.

One such forum was on June 17 at West Platte High School in Weston. The school’s cafeteria had been transformed into what looked like a KCPL science fair. Booths displayed information, and KCPL employees were there to answer questions about their charts, pie graphs and maps. A shiny, white model of a windmill spun in a corner, where it was plugged into a wall outlet. One station touted KCPL’s record for keeping electricity rates low. Another described the company’s plans to control its emissions of mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur.

About 35 people came to this public forum, KCPL’s first on this issue. More are scheduled for July 8 in Atchison and July 13 at the Discovery Center in Kansas City.

The forums demonstrate that Great Plains has been paying attention to issues raised by Concerned Citizens.

A little bit, anyway. “You probably can’t impact the building of this one as much as you can future ones,” Chris Giles, a senior director of regulatory and resource management, told Brown at the June 17 event.

The flurry of forums comes only after the company has spent three years avoiding the public while it sought permits to build coal-burning power plants.

In fact, if the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Air Pollution Control Program hadn’t lost a Great Plains computer disk containing “air dispersion modeling” information, the company might have had a permit to build the Weston plant a year ago.

No public forums to address Great Plains’ “comprehensive energy approach to future energy needs” were scheduled back then. Perhaps no such forums would have taken place without the fluke of a lost disk, the sharp eye of the Sierra Club and the loud mouth of Brown.

By last week, the Star was reporting that Great Plains Energy had “backed off” its proposal to build two power plants and was focusing all of its attention on the Weston site. Additionally, the company pointed to its offer to retrofit its existing La Cygne and Iatan plants with newer pollution-control technology, as well as a proposal to get 200 megawatts of wind power up and running at the same time as the new Weston plant. These details had been the main focus of the public forums in June.

Close observers note that these improvements shouldn’t be seen as Great Plains doing any favors for the community — the Clean Air Act requires a power company to add new pollution-control technology when it modifies an old plant anyway. Great Plains might also be feeling pressure to help the region comply with the EPA’s new ozone standards, the ones Kansas City is expected to exceed in the coming months.

“It’s very difficult to get these companies looking in another direction,” says Charles Benjamin, a Sierra Club lobbyist and lawyer based in Lawrence. “These interests come in and ask for the moon, the stars, the sky and the universe, and then they settle for the moon and sun and say, ‘Aren’t we nice guys,’ when they need to be doing this anyway. They say, ‘We’ll clean up our existing act, look at this wind stuff, but only if we’re allowed to get our new coal-fired plant.'”

Last week’s announcement came as a surprise to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which is in charge of permitting for the Atchison plant.

“We have had no direct contact with Great Plains on that issue,” says Clark Duffy, the bureau director of air and radiation for the KDHE. He says he learned about Great Plains’ new position only when he read about it in the Star. “We see that the CEO was quoted saying that their plans are changing. I’m sure they will [let the KDHE know their intentions] in due course.”

Blakley remains skeptical. “I think it’s great they’ve come this far since September,” she says. “They’ve come from trying to keep plans for building two coal-burning power plants from the public to this project, where they want to mitigate pollution at existing plants, invest in wind and invest in efficiency.” But, she says, “They still are not really getting it. They’re putting Band-Aids on it … They’re still seeking permits, and why should we trust them?

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