Environmental Protection

Proposed Cooling Water Rules Seek Best Technology to Safeguard Fish

In response to an agreement with Riverkeeper, EPA is seeking comment on its proposed regulations to minimize fish impingement and entrainment in cooling water systems.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing for public comment standards to protect fish and other aquatic organisms drawn each year into cooling water systems at large power plants and factories. The proposal, based on Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act, would establish a common sense framework, putting a premium on public input and flexibility.

“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. It puts implementation analysis in the hands of the permit writers, where requirements can be tailored to the particular facility,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “The public’s comments will be instrumental in shaping safeguards for aquatic life and to build a common-sense path forward. The input we receive will make certain that we end up with a flexible and effective rule to protect the health of our waters and ecosystems.”

The regulation requires that the location, design, construction, and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available to minimize adverse environmental impact. More than 1,500 industrial facilities use large volumes of cooling water from lakes, rivers, estuaries, or oceans to cool their plants, including steam electric power plants, pulp and paper makers, chemical manufacturers, petroleum refiners, and manufacturers of primary metals like iron and steel and aluminum.

Cooling water intake structures cause adverse environmental impact by pulling large numbers of fish and shellfish or their eggs into a power plant's or factory's cooling system. There, the organisms may be killed or injured by heat, physical stress, or by chemicals used to clean the cooling system. Larger organisms may be killed or injured when they are trapped against screens at the front of an intake structure.

Safeguards against impingement will be required for all facilities above a minimum size; closed-cycle cooling systems also may be required on a case-by-case basis when, based on thorough site-specific analysis by permitting authorities, such requirements are determined to be appropriate. EPA is proposing this regulation as a result of a settlement agreement with Riverkeeper, Inc. and other environmental groups.

The agency is proposing the following technology standards to minimize fish impingement and entrainment:

Existing facilities that withdraw at least 25 percent of their water exclusively for cooling purposes and have a design intake flow of greater than 2 million gallons per day would be required to reduce fish impingement under the proposed regulations.

To ensure flexibility, the owner or operator of the facility will be able to choose one of two options for meeting best technology available requirements for reducing impingement. They may conduct monitoring to show the specified performance standards for impingement mortality of fish and shellfish have been met, or they may demonstrate to the permitting authority that the intake velocity meets the specified design criteria. EPA estimates that more than half of the facilities that could be impacted by this proposed rule already employ readily available technologies that are likely to put them into compliance with the proposed standard.

For fish entrainment, EPA is proposing a site-specific determination to be made based on local concerns and on the unique circumstances of each facility.

This proposed rule establishes requirements for the facility owner to conduct comprehensive studies and develop other information as part of the permit application, and then establishes a public process, with opportunity for public input, by which the appropriate technology to reduce entrainment mortality would be implemented at each facility after considering site-specific factors.

Because new units can incorporate the most efficient, best-performing technology directly into the design stage of the project, thus lowering costs and avoiding constraints associated with technology that has already been locked in, the proposed rule would require closed-cycle cooling (cooling towers) for new units at existing facilities, as is already required for new facilities.

The public will be able to comment on the proposal upon its publication in the Federal Register. EPA will conduct a 90-day comment period, and will consider those comments before taking final action on the proposal. The administrator must take final action by July 27, 2012.

Source: EPA

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