EPA Announces Cooling Water Intake Rule; Technology-Based Proposal to Protect Fish

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The Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposed rule March 28 that would prevent fish from being killed by cooling water intakes at power plants and other large industrial facilities.

The proposal addresses impingement--trapping of fish against intake screens--and entrainment--drawing of fish into the cooling water system. The rule is being issued under Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act.

Impingement-prevention controls would be required for existing facilities that withdraw at least 25 percent of their water for cooling and have a design intake flow of 2 million gallons or more per day. Entrainment controls would be based on site-specific determinations, which would include studies and public input.

New units at existing facilities would be required to use closed-loop cooling towers, which are already required for new facilities, EPA said.

Settlement Agreement Required Rule.

The proposal was issued under a settlement agreement with the environmental group Riverkeeper and other organizations requiring EPA to issue a proposal by March 14, 2011, and a final rule by July 27, 2012. EPA said March 14 that the proposal was likely to be delayed until March 28.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in July 2010 granted a request by EPA to take back the part of its cooling water rule relating to existing facilities (ConocoPhillips v. EPA 5th Cir., No. 06-60662, 7/23/10; 50 DEN A-12, 3/15/11).

The rulemaking has raised concerns in the electric power industry, which estimates that up to 40 percent of power plants would have to install controls, raising the cost of electricity (36 DEN A-5, 2/23/11).

“This proposal establishes a strong baseline level of protection and then allows additional safeguards for aquatic life to be developed through a rigorous site-specific analysis, an approach that ensures the most up-to-date technology available is being used,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant EPA administrator for water, in the March 28 announcement. “It puts implementation in the hands of the permit writers, where requirements can be tailored to the particular facility.”

Officials for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, were not immediately available for comment.

By James A. Stimson