All posts tagged 'Rule 316(b) of the Clean Water Act'

Anticipated Cooling Tower Rulemaking: Preserving Aquatic Life at the Expense of Increased Carbon Emissions?

February 2, 2011 12:19
We’ve previously written in this blog concerning regulatory uncertainty and its impact on investment or growth of renewable energy.  One example of how this has recently played out is in the early retirement of Exelon’s Oyster Creek nuclear facility in New Jersey.  Setting aside any philosophical debate with regard to whether nuclear is a form of energy that should be lauded as a resource that generates no carbon dioxide emissions, we focus here on the issue of regulatory uncertainty, the dilemma that arises when an agency leans toward choosing one means of technology as a panacea to a potential harm to the environment, and the unintended impact of such regulation on another area of environmental concern.  Regulatory uncertainty and the potential increased environmental compliance costs of anticipated state and federal regulation forced the owners of Oyster Creek to agree to shut down the 645 MW nuclear facility in 2019, ten years before its renewed license to operate expires.  In April 2009, Exelon won a 20-year license extension for Oyster Creek.  Not all power plants are required to use cooling towers, let alone particular types of cooling towers.  Cooling tower regulations are currently being considered by the EPA and NJ DEP as a way to protect aquatic species in the rivers, oceans and lakes that provide cooling water to power plants.  A component cited by Exelon in its decision to close the plant early was the NJ DEP’s attempt to compel construction and operation of a cooling tower at Oyster Creek within seven years, which Exelon said would be cost prohibitive.  To what extent should a regulatory agency dictate the means or methods to be employed in achieving certain environmental results?  With regard to the federal scheme, rule 316(b) of the Clean Water Act has allowed power plant operators to use what is the “best technology available” to capture water for plant cooling purposes.  EPA’s rulemaking is expected to set significant new national technology-based performance standards to minimize adverse environmental impact.  Although the proposed rule has not yet been issued (it is expected in February 2011, to be followed by a final rule in July 2012), the EPA’s anticipated rule, coupled with the inability of plant operators to consider other factors (such as climate change, impact on water use, land use, and cost) may have unintended consequences.  After all, while requiring particular kinds of cooling towers on all existing power plants may benefit some aquatic life, the forced early retirement of multiple nuclear plants will also result in increased carbon emissions.  And, if predictions are true, rising sea levels associated with increased carbon dioxide levels will likely harm far more aquatic life as rivers become more saline, wetlands are drowned, and abandoned infrastructure falls into the sea.

Carbon Emissions | Regulation | Renewable Energy

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