Power Plant Owners Get EPA Options to Prevent Fish Kills

The Obama administration issued rules that give operators of power plant and factories an array of options to prevent fish from being killed when water is used to cool machinery.

After 20 years of legal wrangling, the Environmental Protection Agency issued final rules today to avoid the death of an estimated 2.1 billion fish, crabs or shrimp that are sucked up in water intakes or caught against protective screens each year.

“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 Nancy Stoner, EPA’s top water official, said in a statement.

The EPA rule is one of a string of measures that will add costs to run power plants, especially those using coal. That combination of rules, critics say, could drive up electricity costs and force older plants out of business.

Many are closing, with 14 gigawatts of coal-fired generation shuttering in 2011 and 2012, and 63 gigawatts set to disappear by 2017 because of regulations and cheap gas, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. All told, a quarter of the nation’s coal boilers may close in the next few years, according to the analysis.

Power companies operating large coal or nuclear plants, such as Entergy Corp., Exelon Corp. and Duke Energy Corp., had weighed in with EPA, urging it to grant flexibility and time to meet the standards. The regulation covers 1,065 facilities, including 544 power plants.

Industry Viewpoints

“We are pleased that EPA has avoided imposing a categorical one-size-fits-all approach to compliance; has embraced significant elements of flexibility,” Tom Kuhn, the president of Edison Electric Institute, said in a statement.

The rules rely on plant owners working with state or local officials to design plans that are most cost effective for reducing fish deaths, the agency said in a statement. New plants must design closed-cycle systems, which industry argued were unworkable on existing plants, or take actions that would be equivalent, it said.

Environmental advocates said EPA abdicated its authority by ceding it to states.

“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,” said Reed Super, a lawyer for the environmental group Riverkeeper who sued to get the agency to issue these rules.

Plant operators will be able to choose one of seven options for meeting best technology available requirements for reducing impingement, according to the EPA statement.

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