Administration delays final cooling water rule

The administration pushed back its deadline for a final rule to July 27, 2013. The rule, which is part of the Clean Water Act, seeks to design and locate the structures used to take in water for cooling water reservoirs at industrial facilities in a way that minimizes environmental consequences. 

That rule would hit power plants particularly hard, Republicans and utility representatives have said.

It is the third time in recent weeks that the administration has wavered on proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. The Washington Post reported earlier this month that the administration had asked EPA to soften proposed soot standards. The EPA also is reviewing part of a rule intended to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

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EPA said on its website that it needed more time to “complete analysis of data, options and public comments” before finalizing the rule.

"The extension of the deadline simply reflects the fact that there is a lot of work to be done to address the comments, do the necessary analysis to incorporate them into the final rule, and go through the standard interagency review process," Alisha Johnson, an EPA spokeswoman, told The Hill on Tuesday.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and the Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) called recent EPA actions a "temporary political retreat" in a statement Tuesday. They said the agency needs to be more inclusive and transparent during the rule drafting process.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) jumped at the opportunity to highlight an EPA regulation that he and other GOP members feel would stunt the nation’s economic recovery.

“The delay of this rule is just one more indication that EPA needs to undergo economic evaluations before moving full speed ahead with an agenda that destroys jobs and damages the economy,” the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works said in a statement Tuesday.

The rule would require the more than 1,500 affected industrial facilities to use “the best technology available” on cooling water intake structures to limit environmental damage, EPA said.

Those structures swallow large amounts of water from lakes, rivers, estuaries and oceans. EPA says the 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.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.