Inching Closer to Cooling Water Intake Structure Regulation of Existing Facilities

Late July saw some movement on the cooling water intake structure (CWIS) front.

On Friday, July 23, in ConocoPhillips, et al. v. EPA, the Fifth Circuit granted EPA’s motion for a voluntary remand of the existing-facilities portion of its Phase III regulation. The Phase III rule, promulgated in 2006, addressed CWIS at existing small power plants and other facilities in certain industries, including the pulp and paper, chemical, primary metals and petroleum and coal products industries, as well as new oil and gas extraction facilities. The Phase III rule did not set a “best technology available” (BTA) standard for existing facilities, and instead continued the current practice of “best professional judgment,” case-by-case determinations of BTA. Not surprisingly, the rule was challenged by a number of entities.

Last year, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, the agency had requested that the portion of the regulation dealing with existing facilities be remanded so that the agency could reevaluate it in conjunction with its proceedings on remand of the 2004 Phase II rule, which addressed CWIS at large, existing, power plants. In Entergy the Supreme Court held that EPA could, but was not required, to employ cost-benefit analysis when determining the BTA and has discretion to consider to what degree costs and benefits should be weighed in making such a determination. The Fifth Circuit’s recent ruling now clears the way for EPA to combine Phase II and Phase III into a single rulemaking covering all existing CWIS facilities. (At the same time that it remanded the Phase III rule as it relates to existing facilities, the court deferred to the agency and upheld the rule as it applies to new offshore oil and gas facilities).

This decision dovetails with the agency’s announcement two days earlier that it would be sending to the OMB for approval a proposed survey that would help the agency determine the benefits of the proposed regulatory options for CWIS. Data collected during the survey, which will be of approximately 2000 households, will be used to calculate willingness to pay for the reduction of fish losses at CWIS. Comments on the proposal must be submitted by September 20, 2010.

So, it looks like some progress is being made towards a determination of what constitutes BTA for CWIS at existing facilities, but how long it will take for it to be made is unclear. Obviously, it seems that the agency’s previously announced intentions, as reported in the BNA Daily Environment Report, to issue a proposed rule in the middle of this year were a bit optimistic.

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