WASHINGTON D.C.––Acting on behalf of at least 2.1 billion sentient beings per year who are pureed or boiled alive, to little public notice, the Environmental Protection Agency on May 19, 2014 issued final rules for water use in the cooling systems of electrical generating stations.
The new rules apply to 1,065 cooling structures at 544 generating stations, most of them powered by coal or nuclear reactors.
“If you have cooling water intakes you have to look at the impact on aquatic life in local waterways and take steps to minimize that impact,” said EPA acting assistant administrator for water Nancy Stoner.
Adopted after nearly 20 years of lawsuits and lobbying, the new rules are meant to protect fish, vernal shrimp, crabs, crayfish, and other species of importance to wildlife food chains. Humane concerns on behalf of these species have barely been raised during the two decades of intensive debate. The EPA drafted the initial proposal to regulate cooling water intakes years before publication of many recent studies demonstrating the previously much disputed capacity of fish and crustaceans to feel pain.
Generating station management will be permitted to choose among seven options for reducing harm to fish and crustaceans. according to the EPA statement.
“We are pleased that EPA has avoided imposing a categorical one-size-fits-all approach to compliance [and] has embraced significant elements of flexibility,” said Edison Electric Institute president Tom Kuhn.
“The rules rely on plant owners working with state or local officials to design plans that are most cost effective for reducing fish deaths,” summarized Mark Drajem of Bloomberg News. “New plants must design closed-cycle systems, which industry argued were unworkable on existing plants, or take actions that would be equivalent.
“The EPA rule is one of a string of measures that will add costs to run power plants,” Drajem continued, “especially those using coal. That combination of rules, critics say, could drive up electricity costs and force older plants out of business.”
Bloomberg New Energy Finance projected that the new EPA rules will contribute to closing about 25% of the remaining coal-fired generating stations, which have already lost much of their market share to generators burning natural gas.
But Riverkeeper attorney Reed Super argued that the new EPA rules “will perpetuate the unacceptable status quo that has allowed antiquated plants to withdraw nearly 100 trillion gallons of fresh and sea water each year, and indiscriminately kill fish and wildlife.”
Headed by Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Riverkeeper repeatedly filed lawsuits invoking the 1972 Clean Water Act to try to compel the EPA to finalize the long-delayed water intake rules. Riverkeeper in April 2010 lost a round when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to order the EPA to require the Indian Point nuclear reactor in New York state to use a closed cooling system, which would not kill aquatic life. But the EPA in November 2010 settled further Riverkeeper litigation by agreeing to introduce the newly issued rules by the end of March 2011––a deadline missed by more than three full years.
The EPA rules are “basically leaving it up to industry to decide what safeguards to put in place,” objected Fish Feel founder Mary Finelli, citing “industry’s historic lack of action to protect aquatic animals, coupled with the lack of action the states have taken. Untold billions more fish, crabs, shrimp, and other aquatic animals are doomed to continue to be needlessly killed and in horrible ways,” Finelli said.
Pointed out Energy Matters blogger Roger Witherspoon (http://spoonsenergymatters.wordpress.com/), “In the last couple of years, the EPA has watered down the damage done by power plants to the aquatic environment. They used to say the toll was two trillion fish annually. Then, two years ago, they dropped it to two billion. When I asked why, they would not say. The Indian Point plants alone kill more than two billion juvenile and adult fish annually,” Witherspoon said. “The hatchlings––those under half an inch in diameter––get sucked in through their screens, and cooked. They kill 300 billion of these annually.”
Witherspoon in 2011 reported that according to New York state Department of Environmental Conservation data, “The most destructive power plant in New York State, is the coal-and-oil-fired Northport Power Station in Suffolk County, along the north shore of Long Island Sound. That plant alone sucks more than 9.5 billion mature fish into its system annually.”
But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found an impact on young fish that is magnitudes greater, Witherspoon continued, in an “environmental assessment of the twin Indian Point nuclear plants in Buchanan, New York. “In determining that the overall impact on essential fish habitat is ‘small to moderate,'” Witherspoon wrote, “the agency noted approvingly that new screens installed in front of the 40-foot-wide intake pipes in 1984 had reduced the destruction of baby fish between 1984 and 1991 by 187 billion per year,” from nearly 500 billion per year, “to its present rate of just 300 billion.”
Noted Witherspoon, “In most states, if you catch undersized fish you would be fined. But the Office of Management & Budget only sees value in the end product [of energy production] and the EPA has applied this rationale when examining the thermal impact of cooling systems.”