LAWRENCE | An environmental group said Tuesday it wants to intervene in an anti-pollution lawsuit filed by the federal government against Kansas’ largest electric company, a case the utility hopes to settle.
Sierra Club attorney Bob Eye said the group filed a request in federal court to intervene. He said the Sierra Club won’t raise new issues but offer its expertise and support the claims made against Westar Energy Inc. by attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The lawsuit, filed in February, deals with pollution controls at Westar’s biggest coal-fired generating complex, the Jeffrey Energy Center, about 30 miles northwest of Topeka. Government attorneys allege Westar is violating the federal Clean Air Act by not installing proper pollution controls, which the utility disputes.
The Sierra Club had a news conference as part of a national anti-coal “Day of Action,” with about 40 people standing behind Eye. Organizers chose a Lawrence Park overlooking the Kansas River because steam could be seen rising in the distance from another Westar coal-fired complex, the Lawrence Energy Center.
“It takes a fair amount of legal horsepower to deal with these issues,” Eye said. “One of the functions of a case like this is to get utilities, generally, to back up and ask themselves some hard questions about whether or not they are in compliance with the Clean Air Act across the board.”
Westar has denied the lawsuit’s allegations that it failed to obtain proper permits for modifications at the Jeffrey complex and the changes were inadequate for controlling emissions.
Westar spokesman Nick Bundy noted that the company has invested about $460 million in upgrading the complex. He said the changes will significantly reduce pollution, including cutting sulfur dioxide emissions by 95 percent.
Also, Westar announced in May that it would spend another $380 million upgrading controls at the Lawrence center.
The lawsuit over Jeffrey is scheduled to go to trial in April 2011, but Bundy said Westar is talking with EPA and Justice officials about settling.
“We hope that the Sierra Club’s involvement in this case will ensure that all parties can reach an agreement,” he said.
EPA spokesman Chris Whitley said the agency takes no position on the Sierra Club’s involvement because the issue will be decided by U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson. He also said the EPA typically does not say whether it’s having settlement discussions in a lawsuit.
“It’s a pending matter, and we’re continuing to pursue the case,” Whitley said.