The national struggle to halt the construction of coal plants because of the harmful pollutants they release has spread from Kansas to Missouri.

When the Kansas Department of Health and Environment recently rejected a permit for a proposed coal plant near Holcomb, it became the first government agency in the United States to cite carbon dioxide emissions as the reason.

The Missouri battle is over a 700-megawatt coal-fired power plant that Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. of Springfield wants to build near Norborne, 30 miles east of Excelsior Springs.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources recently gave the cooperative preliminary approval to build the $1.3 billion plant. The utility, whose area covers almost all of rural Missouri, says it needs the coal plant to keep up with its 850,000 customers’ rapidly growing needs for electricity.

“The load growth we are seeing, that electricity has got to come from somewhere,” said Nancy Southworth, the utility’s corporate communications manager. “We feel like the environmental controls that have been added to it are good, and they are going to make (the emissions) very clean.”

Recent reports, however, cite Missouri as the 12th dirtiest state in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and 46th in energy conservation. Unlike many other cities and states, Missouri also has yet to develop a climate protection plan.

Already two other coal plants are under construction in Missouri, one just north of Kansas City and the other in Springfield. With the Norborne plant, they will increase CO2 emissions by about 15 million tons annually, according to state government estimates.CO2, a greenhouse gas, is a major contributor to the earth’s warming, which in the Midwest may result in more droughts, severe weather and food and water shortages, scientists say.

In addition, power plants emit a variety of pollutants – including nitrogen oxide – that contribute to ozone, sulfur dioxide that contributes to acid rain, and mercury.

“Clearly, we are moving in the wrong direction,” said Melissa Hope, development director for the Missouri Sierra Club. The organization has a national campaign, “No New Coal Plants,” to halt construction of new plants until CO2 is regulated.

“The state has an obligation to reject the permit,” Hope said.

Associated Electric already is being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency for potential violation of the federal Clean Air Act. If violations are found, the company faces millions of dollars in fines and may have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for new pollution controls on its older power plants, the cost of which could be passed on to ratepayers.

The rush to build new coal plants that began about two years ago has slowed partly because rules already are being drafted to regulate CO2, which will make installing controls extremely expensive.

Still some utilities, such as Sunflower Electric Power Corp. in Kansas, have moved ahead only to become mired in legal battles with the Sierra Club, other organizations and concerned citizens. Already the Sierra Club is preparing for legal action if the Missouri Department of Natural Resources finalizes the Norborne coal plant permit.

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