“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consistently has said its proposed rule for regulating cooling water intake structures would reflect a common-sense approach that reasonably accommodates site-specific circumstances, while minimizing adverse environmental impacts. In addition, the administration has acknowledged that rules should be necessary, cost-effective and compatible with job creation and economic growth—goals which the U.S. electric power sector shares.
“Since the agency’s proposal under section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act was just issued, we are still examining the rule. Based upon our initial review, we are pleased that EPA has chosen not to establish a blanket requirement that cooling towers be installed at all existing facilities. We’re also encouraged that the agency appears not to be mandating cooling tower retrofits on existing facilities when modified.
“On the other hand, while the recently released proposal does embrace certain elements of flexibility it does so inconsistently and incompletely. For example, although the proposed rule appropriately maintains state responsibility for setting site-specific limits to protect tiny organisms from passing through cooling water intakes, the decision-making process that states would be required to follow is heavily slanted in favor of closed-cycle cooling.
“Therefore, EPA’s proposal could result in premature plant retirements, capacity shortfalls and higher costs for customers. Governors from around the nation, in a bipartisan fashion, also have transmitted their concerns about how such a result could negatively impact their states.
“The proposal focuses mainly on reducing “entrainment” and “impingement”—the passing of small organisms through the facility and the trapping of larger organisms against intake screens. For more than 30 years, electric companies have successfully worked with EPA and individual states in applying Section 316(b) requirements on a site-by-site basis—an approach that remains the most scientifically valid and cost-effective method of regulating cooling water impacts on marine life. A linchpin in this approach has been the application of a cost-benefit analysis to assess whether the benefits of any requirements justify their costs and, if so, whether the selected approach is likely to maximize net benefits.
“In keeping with these practices, we encourage EPA to develop a cooling water intake structure regulation that ensures strong environmental protection, while maintaining electric reliability and minimizing costs to electricity customers. The rule must afford permitted entities and regulators the ability to ensure that new intake structure requirements are necessary and economically practical, address site-specific factors, and maintain the nation’s vital electricity generating assets.
“No two power plants, the sites they occupy, or affected marine populations are exactly alike. As a result, there is no single solution to reducing environmental impacts applicable to every situation. A full range of technologies must be available, and factors unique to every power plant site should be considered. Each facility has unique challenges, and no one approach should be expected to perform equally well in each instance—even at very similarly configured facilities.
“Today’s proposal falls short in at least two important areas:
- “First, the proposal equates any amount of impingement and entrainment as adverse, even where a demonstration can be made that the fish population near a facility is healthy. Thus, the proposal requires a complex, time-consuming and expensive set of analyses and ultimately a decision to add additional operational constraints and costs to virtually all existing power plants, even where available information suggests that any environmental risk created by impingement or entrainment losses is very low.
- “Second, the proposal requires all existing power plants to meet strict numeric impingement mortality standards or design velocity limitations, without exception. The electricity industry has serious concerns about whether these standards can be met reliably and economically at most plants. There is no opportunity for facilities to demonstrate that site-specific factors make the standards unwarranted or unachievable as a result of varying technological performance or the variability that naturally exists in marine populations.
“The U.S. electric power industry is committed to operating power plants in an environmentally responsive manner that provides safe, affordable electricity for our customers. The expense and difficulty of retrofitting cooling towers at existing generation facilities would produce a regulatory compliance dilemma for many companies. A number of facilities would be unable physically or economically to meet a cooling tower requirement. Such facilities likely would be forced to close prematurely, leading to higher electricity bills and possible adverse effects on local economies, without commensurate environmental benefits.”