Based on our initial review, we are encouraged by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Notice of Data Availability on its proposal to regulate utility cooling water intake structures, the Edison Electric Institute said today.
“The NODA incorporates new information EPA received in comments and during power plant site visits and seeks public comment on vital concerns to the utility industry,” EEI President Tom Kuhn said. “These issues must be fleshed out and appropriately addressed as the administration works toward finalizing a rule this summer that protects aquatic life in a flexible and cost-effective manner.”
EPA estimates that the rule, issued under section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act, will require at least 650 power plants across the country to make significant modifications to their cooling water intake structures. The power sector is united in its concerns regarding several elements of the agency’s proposal that needlessly jeopardize the ability of many facilities—including those with cooling towers and cooling ponds—to achieve compliance.
Specifically, EEI has expressed concern with the inflexibility in the proposal’s impingement mortality standard, definition of closed-cycle cooling, requirement for facilities with existing closed-cycle cooling systems to also comply with numeric impingement limitations, lack of de minimis relief for facilities that have little impact, inadequate consideration of cost-benefit mechanisms, and barriers to employing site-specific permitting for both impingement mortality and entrainment reductions.
Failure to address these shortcomings would create uncertainty and force many utilities to pursue compliance options that would cost customers far more than comparably protective alternatives. The final rule should ensure flexibility with respect to entrainment and impingement requirements and incorporate the use of appropriate cost-benefit mechanisms to ensure that permitting decisions do not impose requirements whose costs far exceed their benefits.
“We believe the notice is an important step toward addressing these concerns, because it seeks more information on these critical issues, which must be resolved in the final rule,” Kuhn said.
EPA is expected to release results of a public opinion survey, intended to determine how much Americans are “willing-to-pay” for a given level of reduction in fish losses or for improvements in fish populations. These “stated preference” techniques are designed to estimate benefits—including so-called “non-use” benefits—that the agency believes may be realized from reducing impacts to fish. EEI intends to address concerns with the willingness-to-pay survey once it is released.
“It is our hope that EPA receives the additional data necessary to produce a final rule this summer that reflects the substantial geographic, engineering and other site-specific differences between facilities,” Kuhn said. “The industry is committed to working with EPA to develop a regulation that provides strong environmental protections in a flexible manner that does not impose unnecessary costs on our customers.”