Earlier this week, EPA announced its long-awaited revised proposal for a cooling water intake structure rule for existing facilities. Praise is much less interesting than criticism, and thus less conducive to entertaining blog posts, but I’m afraid EPA has left me no choice. Within the confines of what the Clean Water Act requires, EPA seems to have gotten this one pretty much right.
EPA has a useful summary of the rule here. I could certainly quarrel with aspects of the rule, but the basic structure makes sense. It applies to facilities that take at least 25% of their water from an adjacent waterbody and use more than 2MGD/day. Limits are imposed on total fish impingement, though facilities can meet an alternative standard by limiting approach velocity to 0.5 feet per second. EPA has gotten out of the command and control business, at least for existing units. Facilities that withdraw at least 125 MGD would have to perform studies leading to site-specific standards to address entrainment concerns. Finally, new units that increase generating capacity would be have to used close-cycle cooling (or something equivalent).
One measure of EPA’s success here may be that environmental NGOs are already criticizing the proposal because, instead of setting immovable national standards, the rule would give too much discretion to state permitting authorities.
It really is worth noting that the 316(b) proposal is only one of several in which EPA has listened to the concerns of industry and revised rules or proposed rules in response to those concerns. First, EPA revised its proposed Tailoring Rule to raise the jurisdictional thresholds to exclude additional smaller sources. Then, it revised the boiler rule in response to concerns that its original proposal really wasn’t feasible. Now, it has avoided a one size fits all rule for CWIS, allowing site-specific factors to come into play.
Just so I don’t lose all my credibility with my clients, I must note that there remain areas in which EPA seems completely tone-deaf regarding reasonable regulatory reforms. The last bastion of soviet-style command and control known as the Superfund program certainly springs to mind. However, while I doubt EPA will get much credit for it, it is only fair to acknowledge that there does seem to be at least something of a pattern unfolding here. Whether this is really a change in EPA’s DNA or whether it is simply a response to current political realities, only time will tell. Whatever the cause, it’s certainly welcome.
Just like the tax code is not the fault of accountants, the ill-drafted CERCLA is not EPA’s fault. I imagine if they could get Congress to re-write so it wasn’t so convoluted, they would. They have to make lemonade from lemons.