Politics & Government

Bremby still wonders about his firing

Three months ago, Roderick Bremby was abruptly fired by then-Gov. Mark Parkinson.

He still wonders why.

Bremby said he doesn't know for sure that it was because he had blocked a proposed coal plant, although many suspect that was the reason.

"I definitely feel I did the right thing," Bremby told the Kansas City Star on Wednesday in his first interview since being fired.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2003 appointed Bremby to the cabinet position of secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

His work there was fairly smooth until Sunflower Electric Power Corp. filed an application to build coal plants in western Kansas. In 2006, after much work, research and discussion, Bremby made his decision.

"We believed it was a very important decision," he said. "We took our time with it."

He became the first public official to deny a permit to build a coal plant based on concerns that carbon dioxide emissions are a danger to health and the environment.

But the fight was just beginning.

In 2009, Sebelius was appointed to head the U.S. Health and Human Services, a cabinet-level position. Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, who had opposed the coal plant, took her job.

"When he was lieutenant governor, we had a solid working relationship," Bremby said. "Mark took a very active role in supporting alternative energy."

But on May 1, 2009, Bremby said, he met with Parkinson, who said there was some interest in finding some middle ground regarding the coal plant issue.

"That was pretty much the extent of it," Bremby said.

What Parkinson didn't say was that he was in the middle of meetings with Sunflower executives, and on the following Monday, the compromise was announced. It would allow Sunflower to build one coal plant.

"The pace and speed of the development surprised me," Bremby said.

Parkinson could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

In 2010, as Parkinson's term as governor was nearing an end, Sunflower officials were telling Topeka insiders that they were concerned Bremby was deliberately slowing down the permit. Sunflower wanted the permit finished by Jan. 2 to beat new federal regulations on greenhouse gases.

On Nov. 2, election day, Bremby had taken a sick day and he got a call at home by Parkinson's chief of staff and his legal counsel. They advised him that the governor wanted him to take a cabinet transition director position.

Bremby suggested he could do both jobs, but they told him he would no longer be KDHE secretary. He was told that he could receive a severance package if he agreed not to discuss the issues until after Parkinson left office in January.

"There was no rationale given," Bremby said. "There was no conversation about the permit or any of that. I have not had a chance to visit with Mark, so I'll just wonder a while and leave it where it is."