Sierra Club calls on EPA to strengthen rules on coal plants, affecting two Kansas facilities

By: - May 25, 2023 11:46 am

EvOne of Evergy's coal-fired power plants could require upgrades if the Environmental Protection Agency restricts lead, chromium and nickel emissions. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Two Kansas utilities could be required to upgrade coal-fired power plants to limit emissions of lead and other hazardous metals under a policy regulators are considering, according to environmental activists. 

The Sierra Club on Thursday released a report urging the Environmental Protection Agency to use its existing pollution rules to cut down on harmful exposures from coal plants. 

Thursday’s report follows an earlier release from the Sierra Club about the 17 coal plants it says are the deadliest in America. None are in Kansas. 

But across the U.S., exposure to particle pollution from power plants, the environmental nonprofit found, causes 3,800 premature deaths every year. 

“The Biden Administration has an opportunity to save lives, ensure the health of our communities and address the worst impacts of the climate crisis simply by strengthening and enforcing existing laws under the Clean Air Act,” the Sierra Club said in its release.

Power plants in Kansas aren’t among the dirtiest, according to the Sierra Club. But the EPA could and should reduce levels of harmful metals in the air at two Kansas power plants, the group argues. 

Two power plants — the Jeffrey Energy Center and Nearman Creek Power Station — emit levels of chromium, nickel and lead above a combined 0.006 pounds per British Thermal Unit of power generated, the report says. 

They’re not breaking any current regulations, but the EPA is taking public comment on the possibility of lowering the emissions limits for those metals to 0.006 pounds. It has already proposed lowering the limit to 0.01 pounds. 

Sierra Club supports the more restrictive proposal. If that were to become regulation, Jeffrey and Nearman might have to upgrade. 

Evergy, which owns the Jeffrey plant and serves customers in Kansas and Missouri, doesn’t anticipate significant additional costs because of the current EPA proposal. 

Evergy spokeswoman Gina Penzig said in an email that the utility has made “substantial investments in our plants to reduce their impact on the environment.” 

“We must continue to ensure that our customers have … affordable and reliable energy to power their homes and businesses, even as we continue to move toward more renewable energy sources,” Penzig said. 

Ty Gorman, Kansas campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, cited an earlier Sierra Club report urging Evergy to retire the Jeffrey plant that says, starting next year, it will cost ratepayers more to draw energy from the coal plant than replace it with clean energy. 

“Utility executives can either throw good money after bad by investing further in the Jeffrey coal plant, or utility executives can take advantage of new clean energy incentives to transition away from Jeffrey,” Gorman said. “Investing in clean energy will save customers money and eliminate air pollution that causes health problems and premature death while fueling the climate crisis.”

Nearman Creek is owned by the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities, which serves Wyandotte County. 

BPU’s spokesman, David Mehlhaff, said it’s too early to determine any effects from the potential EPA regulation. There will be public hearings and review before any new rule goes into effect. 

Mehlhaff said it’s also too early to speculate when it might retire the Nearman plant.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.