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From Clean Water Network

Riverkeeper Alliance needs your help identifying examples of fish kills  associated with power plants.  They are looking for examples to include  in comments on EPA’s Proposed Cooling Water Regulation For Existing  Facilities.  Please see the fact sheet below for more information on the  rulemaking and contact Reed Super at 845-424-4149, ext 224, with your examples or questions.  



Fact Sheet EPA’s Proposed Cooling Water Regulation For Existing Facilities:


On April 9, 2002, EPA published proposed Phase II cooling water intake  regulations for existing power plants (67 Fed. Reg. 17122)  (  The proposed rule is an abdication of  Congress’s mandate to minimize the environmental damage from cooling  water intakes.  It sets low standards, and then grants the energy  industry substantial opportunity to raise excuses to avoid the  standards. The proposal represents a direct and significant threat to  the nation’s aquatic ecosystems, and to the integrity and effectiveness  of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws.  Comments on EPA’s  proposal are due on July 8, 2002. 

Summary of Proposed Phase II Regulation

·           EPA’s proposal fails to require closed-cycle cooling (which reduces  fish kills by approximately 95%) as “best technology" for any of the 550  large power plants in the country, but instead sets a performance  standard based loosely on the protection offered by a variety of  cheaper, less effective, less reliable mechanisms. This weak mandate  would allow existing plants to kill 20 to 1000 times more fish per  megawatt than new plants, and continue to decimate aquatic life in U.S.  waterways indefinitely. ·            The proposal allows power companies to avoid the weak technology  standard by pleading special economic circumstances, or arguing that the  local ecosystem does not merit protection.  Alternatively, the companies  may attempt to replace the fish they kill. Such restoration measures are  vague, unproven, likely to fail, and are rarely if ever intended to  replace the number or variety of aquatic and marine animals killed by  the water withdrawals.   ·      Instead of setting a protective, technology based standard, the rule  would adopt and codify many of the site-specific arguments which  permittees typically use to avoid closed-cycle cooling requirements.  Since even environmentally sympathetic regulators lack the resources  needed to rebut, or in most cases fully evaluate these arguments, the  rule will allow applicants to continue to obstruct and delay needed  technology upgrades.

Flawed, Biased Cost-Benefit Analysis Trumps the Clean Water Act On December 28, 2001, after years of research by its Office of Science  and Technology, EPA submitted its draft proposal to the White House’s  Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for interagency review.  EPA’s  original draft regulation would have required closed-cycle cooling for  51 of the largest plants on tidal rivers, estuaries and oceans. This  compromise proposal fell far short of a closed-cycle requirement on all  major power plants, but it would have at least minimized the impact on  the most ecologically productive waterbodies. 

However, antiregulatory ideologues in OMB’s Office of Information and  Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) forced EPA to abandon its carefully chosen  option and remove any closed-cycle requirements.  The agencies relied on  cost-benefit analyses which systematically belittle the value of aquatic  ecosystems.  Even using this drastic underestimate, the calculated  benefits of the EPA original proposal would have exceeded costs to  retrofit the most destructive facilities by an ample 3 to 2 margin. 

Nevertheless, in direct contravention to the Congressional “best  technology available" mandate in the Clean Water Act, OIRA rejected any  use of cooling towers and compelled the least cost alternative. OIRA’s  action also violated Executive Order (E.O. 12866), which prohibits  regulatory economic analyses from dictating a result contrary to  statutory requirements.

Background: Fish Kills, Cooling Intake Technology and the Clean Water

Act ·     Every year, electric generating and industrial plants withdraw more  than 100 trillion gallons from U.S. waters for cooling, and kill the  overwhelming majority of organisms in this massive volume by entraining  them into the facility or impinging them on intake screens.  This  staggering mortality – trillions of fish, shellfish, plankton and other  species at all life stages – has stressed and depleted aquatic, coastal  and marine ecosystems for decades, and has contributed to the collapse  of some fisheries.  ·       A single large power plant can utilize hundreds of millions or even  billions of gallons of cooling water per day before discharging the  heated effluent directly into a lake, river or ocean. In contrast, a  closed-cycle cooling system, which recirculates most of the water after  dissipating the heat in a cooling tower and is standard technology for  new plants, cuts withdrawals and fish kills by more than ninety-five  percent.  ·           Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requires such facilities to  employ the “best technology available [BTA] to minimize adverse  environmental impact."  Despite this direct mandate and the decades-old  availability of cooling towers, industrial pressure and EPA neglect has  prevented effective regulation. Cooling withdrawals are the only  NPDES-regulated activity not subject to national categorical standards,  but instead regulated case-by-case. ·           In 1993, after years of frustration at agency failure to require  protective technology, a coalition of environmental groups led by  Riverkeeper sued to force EPA to finally promulgate cooling water intake  standards, Riverkeeper, Inc. v. Whitman, U.S. District Court, Southern  District of New York, No. 93-Civ.0314 (AGS). As a result of  Riverkeeper’s lawsuit, on December 18, 2001 EPA promulgated its Phase I  rule which requires closed-cycle cooling for new facilities (66 Fed. Reg. 65256). 


Help Stop this Abuse of Our Ecosystems and Environmental Laws

Riverkeeper is mounting a comprehensive legal, technical and policy  campaign to stop this needless killing of fish and evisceration of the  Clean Water Act.  Please contact us.

Reed Super, Senior Attorney    David Gordon, Senior Attorney 845-424-4149, ext 224                       845-424-4149, ext 225              

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