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Rod Bremby: The Man Who Put a Red State on the Green Map

Secretary Bremby is the first person in U.S. history to deny permits for coal plants on the basis of CO2 emissions, causing a flurry in Kansas.

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SS: You focused on electricity generation because it's the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Kansas, but would you target other carbon-intensive sectors like transportation or agriculture in the future?

RB: No, not without federal direction.

SS: Roughly 2/3 of Kansas' energy comes from coal plants that are already emitting CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, not to mention mercury and other toxins. What measures are you taking to protect us from these pollutants?

RB: Absolutely. We are still working with adherence to the existing Clean Air Act, and have approached all companies operating large facilities to enter into an agreement to reduce their emissions voluntarily. Our largest energy supplier entered into agreement with us and is engaging in voluntary reductions. And it is absolutely not the case that older facilities operate with impunity. We continue to seek voluntary reduction agreements with the other companies as well.

SS: Opponents argue that you have no legal or regulatory framework for these kinds of decisions. Can you explain what further authority is required or are you the sole arbiter of this decision?

RB: I, in consort with others, follow the law as we understand it. Because this decision is subject to legal dispute, the final arbiter will be the courts.

SS: In light of all these challenges, would you do anything differently?

RB: I don't think so. I think that following the decision we could have made more of the material that informed our decision available to the public--the Supreme Court decision, the IPCC report. I am surprised at times to learn that people think I acted alone, but the Kansas Attorney General provided an opinion that affirmed our belief that my actions were within the law. I didn't just make this decision on a whim.

SS: Any final thoughts?

RB: So much has been written about the jobs the coal plants would create but little has been said about the infrastructure costs and the burden to the community prior to the receipt of local tax revenues from the proposed facility. Nevada took a coal plant offline because of costs and is looking at renewable energy and efficiency as alternatives. The argument in Western Kansas was the need for baseload power, but there's been no discussion of the impacts on the aquifer or opportunity to garner energy from cleaner baseload energy sources. There are a lot of environmental impacts we have not discussed, including increased health risks like asthma. And we haven't really looked at the resources that would leave the state as a result of the plants. Lastly, in the context of the proposed newer plant being cleaner than the older plants, there has be a deliberate omission of the amount of CO2 this plant will release annually. This plant will emit more than all but one other facility.

We view Secretary Bremby's final words as a challenge. Although some Kansas legislators have insisted that Sunflower's proposed plants will be "clean," we know that clean coal is an illusion. Stay tuned for our next post, as we delve into the myriad hazards of one of our nation's most dirty industries.

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