U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, U.S. Representative Lynn Jenkins, U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, U.S. Representative Kevin Yoder, and U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo today requested that U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder protect USDA rural lending practices by defending existing USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) environmental review regulations.
In 2007, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against USDA RUS to stop Sunflower Electric Power Corporation's (Sunflower) planned power plant project in Holcomb, Kansas. On March 29, 2011, a federal district court judge ruled that USDA RUS violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to require Sunflower to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The judge's ruling, however, is in contravention to longstanding USDA RUS regulations created during the Clinton Administration that do not require an EIS if RUS merely has a preexisting loan interest and is not the primary lender for the proposed project -- as in Sunflower's case.
If USDA chooses to settle the case and not appeal the judge's ruling, it would establish the precedent that every rural utility provider must prepare an EIS for all infrastructure repair, replacement, and expansion projects regardless of whether RUS is the primary lender. This would increase the cost and unnecessarily delay much-needed rural development projects in Kansas and across the nation.
Sen. Moran, Rep. Jenkins, Rep. Huelskamp, Rep. Yoder and Rep. Pompeo issued the following statement along with the letter sent today:
"It would be irresponsible and short-sighted for the Administration to give in to the plaintiff's unreasonable demands in this case. In a time when we need to encourage investment in rural America and reduce high energy prices, settling this case would be sending the opposite signal. Not only would it stop Sunflower's Holcomb project, but it would have a lasting negative impact on future economic development in rural America, delaying needed utility infrastructure repair, replacement, and expansion projects."