But the project is not necessarily out of the woods yet. Disappointed environmentalists vowed to soldier on in their quest to derail the plant, possibly appealing the permit.

KDHE Acting Secretary John Mitchell said he approved the permit following a “careful review of the permit application, public comments and applicable laws. The Sunflower proposed expansion project meets all current state and federal requirements for issuing the permit.” The project would more than double Sunflower’s existing 360-mw coal plant at Holcomb.

Environmentalists cried foul after outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson appointed Mitchell in late fall to replace Roderick Bremby, who ignited a two-year legislative firestorm in late 2007 when he denied Sunflower’s original permit for two 700-mw coal units at Holcomb. In his decision, Bremby cited the project’s potential to increase carbon dioxide emissions which he said could exacerbate global climate change.

The Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature responded by passing three bills that would have allowed Sunflower to construct the two units. Each time, however, then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius vetoed the measures and attempts to override her vetoes failed. After Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, he appointed Sebelius Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Parkinson, then the lieutenant governor, was elected to the state’s chief executive.

Last year, in a surprise move, Parkinson voiced support for Sunflower to build a single 895-mw plant following negotiations with the co-op and others. Parkinson was scheduled to leave office in January. His successor is former U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican who supports the project.