Conflicting demands for complying with EPA’s MATS rule favor a single control technology to deal with multiple types of power plant emissions.
Regulatory Gordian Knot
EPA’s new water, waste, and air regulations complicate power plant compliance.
As if the constantly evolving requirements of the Clean Air Act and developing waste regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act aren’t challenging enough for the electric power industry, new requirements under the Clean Water Act will add to the burden. Moreover, some air and waste requirements will complicate compliance with new water rules and vice-versa.
A media-specific approach to environmental regulation and associated power industry compliance efforts might result in failure to address, or even identify, significant cross-media rulemaking implications. Failure to consider the complex, cross-media implications of these rules presents further risks of noncompliance.
Exploring these cross-media implications, with a more detailed focus on two key developing water regulations, reveals the need for an industry-led initiative to navigate these challenges and pursue potential opportunities for streamlining water, air, and waste requirements for electric generating units, such as a single “cluster rule.” Executives and policymakers involved in environmental compliance by electric power plants should look to the future now to minimize risks and maximize efficient resource allocation.
Changing Water Rules
By far the most significant Clean Water Act rulemakings for power plants currently underway involve cooling water intake and effluent. The cooling water intake structures rulemaking, known as the CWIS rule, seeks to reduce impacts associated with water entering a power plant for cooling purposes, and the revised effluent limitations guidelines regulate pollutants associated with water leaving a power plant.
Clean Water Act Section 316(b) requires that the location, design, construction and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the “best technology available” for minimizing adverse environmental impacts. In April 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed regulations intended to reduce impingement mortality and entrainment mortality. Fish and other organisms that are pinned to intake screens are “impinged,” while smaller fish, eggs, and larvae that are swept through the plant with the water are “entrained.” The requirements would be implemented through National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits.
Based on its assessment that “modified traveling screens … are a best performing technology,” EPA proposed to limit fish impingement mortality at existing facilities to no more than 12 percent (annual average) and 31 percent (monthly average). To prove compliance with these standards, a facility would have to do biological monitoring— i.e., sampling to count the total and surviving impinged fish—at least monthly for the life of the facility. Alternatively, EPA offered the option of limiting through-screen velocity to 0.5 feet per second, though it recognizes that not every facility can meet this standard. Reducing the velocity of water through the screen reduces impingement mortality because it allows fish to escape the current. In addition, the proposal would impose the following three impingement requirements: 1) Facilities on marine or tidal waters must use barrier nets or other technology to protect shellfish; 2) All facilities must provide a means for impingeable fish or shellfish to escape the intake system or