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Sunflower Power Plant Growth Grinds to a Halt

WASHINGTON (CN) - Sunflower Electric cannot expand its coal-fired generating plant in Holcomb, Kan., until the Rural Utilities Service studies possible environmental effects, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan's order falls just short of the injunction requested by the Sierra Club, which wanted to completely stop plant expansion and vacate previous approvals by the Rural Utilities Service.

Last year, Sullivan ruled that the federal agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving expansion plans without issuing environmental reports.

The Sunflower plant and the Rural Utilities Service have been connected by $543 million in loans dating back to 1980. In 2002, Sunflower restructured the plant and asked the service to approve two new generating units at the site. The agency agreed to conditional approvals in 2007 and gave Sunflower more than $70 million in loans, prompting the Sierra Club's lawsuit.

"The sole remaining issue before the court is the appropriate remedy," Sullivan wrote last week. "At the outset, the court notes that the plaintiff and the federal defendants are largely in agreement regarding the appropriate remedy."

Backing his 2011 ruling, Sullivan declared that agency had violated the act and should not issue any more approvals for the power plant until it completes an environmental impact statement. The judge also remanded the case back to the service for consideration of further action.

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