EPA New Water Intake Rules a Win – Win

Posted on June 6, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

By Turner GPA Staff Reporter

Despite the bombast and over-the-top rhetoric coming from both sides concerning new water intake regulations at existing power plants, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has hit exactly the right note by sticking to its commitment to “build a common sense path forward.”

The “commonsense” approach taken by the EPA in this case pertains specifically to the Clean Water Act Section 316(b) that requires the “location, design, construction and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact.”

A contentious and often litigious fight has been raging for years over rules governing how power plants, both coal-fired and nuclear that provide most of the country’s electricity needs, and large factories withdraw billions of gallons of water from the nation’s waterways into their cooling-water systems to absorb heat from industrial equipment.

There is no question that the standard method used for years by industry has been particularly damaging to the environment, killing untold millions of fish and other aquatic life while degrading countless rivers and lakes.

There is also little argument that the remedy to the problem preferred by environmentalists, short of shutting down thousands of power plants and factories, is the construction of costly cooling towers at plants that lack them. According to a Bloomberg article, a number of energy companies, industry groups and lawmakers opposed to that approach point out that mandating the construction of cooling towers could cost upwards of $300 million per site for coal-fired plants and as much as $1 billion for nuclear generators. Both environmental groups and the EPA say the cost per site would be significantly lower.

Whatever the true price tag, what is certain is that the cost will be passed onto consumers. If the price for electricity does become significantly more expensive it would put a strain on household and business budgets alike and could in turn hobble the economy.

However, economic concerns shouldn’t necessarily trump environmental concerns. The cost of following that path is clearly evident in the terrible pollution problems now facing China and also in our own not so distant past: Remember Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River, which caught fire several times in the late 1960s?

Clearly, a balanced approach was needed. And while the EPA policy on cooling water intake was too long in the making, we believe the Agency crafted what should always be the goal in resolving conflict: a “win – win solution”—a resolution that aims to accommodate all disputants.

EPA rules will require facilities to significantly limit the number of fish killed. For larger operations, drawing in at least 125 million gallons of water a day, the rules would require “site-specific” controls. And again, according to Bloomberg, “plants that add electrical generation at an existing site would be required to install technology equivalent to a ‘closed-cycle’ system,” which typically means cooling towers.

Bloomberg, quoting an energy analyst: The EPA’s approach is “likely to minimize the industry’s cost of compliance.” What appeals to the industry is that the EPA won’t mandate a “one-size-fits-all” remedy.

Likewise, the EPA regulations, which will be published by the end of July, do go a long way in addressing environmental concerns, although many environmental groups still have legitimate concerns.

However, we agree with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who noted in a letter that industry has been “waiting nearly twenty years for the regulatory certainty that facilitates sound investment.” The public has been waiting just as long “for reassurance that the aquatic environment is being protected.” The new regulations do exactly that.

Turner GPA is a leading D.C.-based national lobbying and government affairs firm dedicated to delivering cutting edge policy advocacy for the manufacturing, defense, aerospace, health and energy industries. Members of our professional policy team can be reached at (202) 466-2511. We are also on the Web at www.turnergpa.com.

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