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Thom Cmar’s Blog

Bayshore's "Fish-Killing Machine" Is A Poster Child For Why U.S. EPA Needs To Adopt A Stronger Cooling Water Rule

Thom Cmar

Posted March 29, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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It isn’t fourth down, but U.S. EPA has sent its punt team on the field.

Yesterday, U.S. EPA released a proposal for reducing fish kills from power plants’ cooling water intakes, as has been required by the Clean Water Act since 1972 but delayed for decades by fierce industry resistance.  Older power plants still using outdated “once-through” cooling systems kill massive numbers of fish – millions, sometimes billions, per year – sucking up hundreds of millions of gallons of water in the process from rivers, lakes, and streams and spitting it back out scalding.  U.S. EPA’s proposed rule fails to require plants to get rid of this destructive old technology and install closed cycle cooling towers:  a widely used and proven technology that can reduce a plant’s water use (and with it, the number of fish killed) by 95% or more.

U.S. EPA’s proposal is a big disappointment for advocates of healthy fisheries and aquatic ecosystems, as my colleague Steve Fleischli writes about here:

Basically, EPA has chosen the path of least resistance by caving into industry pressure and punting this issue to state agencies – agencies that too often lack the resources and the will to stand up to industry on this issue….

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Experience has shown that a case-by-case approach, as proposed by EPA, simply will not work.  Instead, it is guaranteed to mire the Clean Water Act permitting process in an endless cycle of paperwork and litigation that will continue to leave waterbodies across the country unprotected.  If any lesson has been learned in the nearly four decades since the Clean Water Act was enacted, it is that many state permit writing agencies lack the resources and expertise to permit power plant intake structures in the absence of national categorical requirements.

There’s no better poster child for why a strong EPA cooling water rule is necessary than the FirstEnergy Bayshore Power Plant in Oregon, Ohio.  In the absence of strong national standards from U.S. EPA, the Bayshore plant and a number of other plants ringing Lake Erie have been allowed to continue using once-through cooling. 

When operating at full capacity, the Bayshore plant sucks up over 700 million gallons of water per day in the middle of Maumee Bay in Western Lake Erie, the most productive fishery in the Great Lakes.  You couldn’t pick a worse place to locate a power plant if you tried.

Bayshore’s fish kill numbers are astounding.  As Lake Erie Waterkeeper Sandy Bihn describes it, Bayshore is a “massive fish-killing machine.”  When FirstEnergy was required by Ohio EPA to monitor the plant’s fish kills in 2005-06, it found over 60 million adult fish and over 2.5 billion fish eggs and larvae killed that year.  And the latest news is even worse:  the University of Toledo is conducting a new study of Bayshore’s fish kills that pegs the number of fish eggs and larvae killed at over 12 billion per year.

Dumping all that hot water into Western Lake Erie also takes its toll, likely contributing to foul-smelling, toxic algal blooms and causing further harm to fish populations in a vital but heavily stressed ecosystem.

While U.S. EPA is not proposing to require cooling towers nationally, even under a case-by-case approach it is clear that cooling towers should be required at Bayshore – something that the State of Ohio and FirstEnergy are resisting.  U.S. EPA helped Ohio EPA pay for a consultant, TetraTech, which found that cooling towers are the most cost-effective means of reducing both fish kills and heat discharges from the plant.  And an economic study released last year found that Bayshore’s costs to the local fishing economy exceeded the net present cost to FirstEnergy of making the switch.

Ohio EPA issued a new Clean Water Act permit to Bayshore in November that requires FirstEnergy to make some reductions in the plant’s fish kills, but far less than cooling towers would achieve.  Fortunately, the fight to protect Lake Erie is far from over.  NRDC and a number of our partners are continuing to challenge Ohio EPA’s failure to require cooling towers at Bayshore.

As for U.S. EPA’s rule, it is still in the proposal stage:  over the next 90 days there is still a chance for the public to tell U.S. EPA to call off its punt team.  We need U.S. EPA to issue strong national standards that protect our waters by modernizing our power fleet and set a clear mandate that ensures that states like Ohio bring this unnecessary destruction of our water resources to an end.

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Comments

Sandy BihnMar 29 2011 09:12 PM

The anglers pay for licenses, have to abide by laws that limit catches by size and number yet the power plants kill fish at will with no rules, no payments, no fines.
The Bayshore/First Energy coal plant fish kills are obsene making it more difficult for the little guy to catch a meal. USEPA's rules favor the power plant because they can afford the lobbyists to take fish food away from the little guy.

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