March 24, 2005

EPA's Phase III Cooling Water Intake Structures Proposed Rule

Key materials
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Highlights

The Regulation

  • The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing regulation to reduce harm to aquatic organisms caused by cooling water intakes structures at manufacturing facilities and offshore oil and gas extraction facilities.
  • EPA has previously regulated cooling water intake structures at new facilities (Phase I) and at large power plants (Phase II).

Our Findings

  • While authorized by the Clean Water Act and a consent decree to regulate these facilities, EPA is not required to take regulatory action unless it finds "adverse environmental impacts."
  • EPA has offered no evidence of "adverse environmental impacts" at these facilities, but rather assumes impacts based on dissimilar conditions at a few large power plants.
  • Impacts on aquatic organisms depend on local conditions, and existing permitting procedures under the Clean Water Act are better able to address those impacts.

By the Numbers

  • EPA's estimates of the costs of its proposed approach outweigh the benefits by between $14.7 million and $49.3 million annually.
  • While EPA argues there are unquantified benefits that could justify the costs, our analysis suggests that EPA's costs may be understated and benefits overstated.

Recommendations

  • Rather than issuing this regulation, EPA should take final regulatory action that clarifies state permitting agencies' authority to address any identified problems at these facilities.
  • EPA should explicitly authorize non-technology based alternatives to compliance, including stocking populations of species that may be harmed.