EPA sets standards for cooling water intakes

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized standards Monday for systems that take in cooling water in an effort to stop fish from being drawn in or stuck on the equipment.

The rule will apply to more than 1,000 existing power plants and factories that take water from lakes, rivers and other places the EPA regulates and use it to cool equipment. Most operations will only have to take measures to stop fish from getting trapped, but larger facilities will have to prevent them from being drawn in.

“EPA is making it clear that 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,” Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for water, said in a Monday statement.

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The EPA estimates that 2.1 billion fish, crabs and shrimp are killed each year by water intake structures.

Facilities will be allowed to choose from seven technologies to prevent fish from getting caught in equipment. Those technologies have been used for decades and are currently in place at more than 40 percent of the affected plants.

Riverkeeper Inc., a coalition of environmental groups that sued EPA to force it to issue the standards, said in a statement that it was “beyond disappointed” with the rule.

The group said EPA gave state agencies, who are not equipped to enforce the rule, authority over water intake issues.

“Unfortunately, EPA’s rule 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 instead of recycling their cooling water or use dry cooling technology, as modern plants have done for the past three decades,” said Reed Super, an attorney who worked on the case.

Republicans and the power-generating sector have said the rule will increase costs, raising electricity prices and killing jobs.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) immediately criticized the rule and said he would seek congressional action to overturn it.

“The EPA has released another rule that threatens the affordability and reliability of America’s electricity, and I am committed to ensuring that Congress weighs in,” Inhofe said. “I am working with my Senate colleagues and plan to use my privilege under the Congressional Review Act to force debate and an up-or-down vote on this rule.”

The Congressional Review Act allows Congress an expedited means to reject regulations.

The Edison Electric Institute, which represents electric companies, said Monday that it was closely reviewing the rule, but it was pleased that EPA gave flexibility options for compliance and that it weighed costs against environmental protection.

“Compared to the proposed rule, the final rule’s overall compliance costs will be lower; however, the final rule will present significant operational and compliance challenges,” President Tom Kuhn said in a statement. “We remain concerned that the rule will not provide states with sufficient flexibility to regulate cooling water impacts cost-effectively on a case-by-case basis.”