Friday, Mar 24, 2017
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Tom Henry

EPA revises policy on power plants, fish

The Obama Administration's long-anticipated plan to curb fish kills at power plants is up for public review, a regulatory update that could affect operations at FirstEnergy Corp.'s Bay Shore power plant in Oregon and DTE Energy's coal-fired power plant in Monroe, among others.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, though, essentially has yielded to the discretion of state environmental agencies over what each site-specific fix should be.

Nancy Stoner, the federal EPA's acting assistant administrator for water, said the policy allows states to tailor remedies and "incorporate the most efficient, best-performing technology" into operating permits. Environmentalists fumed while industry officials breathed a sigh of relief.

According to a joint statement by the Natural Resources Defense Counsel and Riverkeeper, two groups at the heart of federal litigation that prompted the new rule, the Obama Administration is allowing power plants and other large industrial facilities "to continue destroying billions of fish and overheating trillions of gallons of water from the nation's rivers, lakes, estuaries, and marine waters."

The groups said that decades of experience "have shown that states lack the resources and expertise to make these decisions on a case-by-case basis and have complained to [the U.S.] EPA of the extreme burden of having to do so."

"We expected more out of the [federal] EPA to protect the country's waterways from power plants' destructive impacts," Paul Gallay, Riverkeeper executive director, said.

Public records on file with state regulatory agencies show Bay Shore is one of the Great Lakes region's biggest fish-killers. Estimates by FirstEnergy's hired consultants have pegged the annual mortality at 46 million adults and 14 million juveniles a year when all four units are at full capacity. Billions of small fish, eggs, and larvae also are destroyed when drawn through the plant's powerful water intakes. The utility has not been operating all four Bay Shore units to save money.

FirstEnergy recently gave the Ohio EPA results of a pilot program aimed at testing the effectiveness of a barrier called reverse louvers. The results, which have not yet been released, were good enough for the agency to authorize FirstEnergy to install more reverse louvers starting next spring, Mark Durbin, utility spokesman, said. "We think we have a good plan in place," he said.

The Monroe facility, one of the nation's largest coal-fired power plants, also ranks among the Great Lakes region's leaders for fish kills. DTE spokesman John Austerberry said the utility agrees that flexibility is necessary to "allow water-cooling technology to be based on site-specific technologies."

The Davis-Besse and Fermi 2 nuclear plants, both 30 miles from Toledo and along the Lake Erie shoreline, are exempt from the rule because they have cooling towers that use water more efficiently than once-through designs. Sixty-two of the nation's 104 nuclear plants don't have them, according to the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute. The devices allow water to be drawn in more gradually, thus minimizing fish kills.

The federal EPA proposal was published in the Federal Register on Monday night.

The agency will take public comment on it for 90 days. It plans to take final action by July 27, Enesta Jones, agency spokesman, said.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.

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