After almost twenty years of signing a consent decree and subsequent litigation, the EPA finalized, on May 19, 2014, a regulation on cooling water intakes for existing power plants and for large existing manufacturers. New facilities had already been regulated since 2001.
Under the new Section 316 (b) regulation, existing facilities that withdraw at least two million gallons per day (of which at least twenty five percent is for cooling purposes) will be required to reduce fish impingement in their cooling water intakes. EPA has proposed one of seven options to fulfill this requirement.
For existing facilities that withdraw in excess of 125 million gallons per day (typically once through cooling water facilities) will be required to undertake specialized studies and propose site specific safeguards for aquatic life. These proposals will be subject to public comment.
Finally, an existing facility which adds electrical generation capacity will have two options to reduce aquatic organism entrainment. This requirement will likely require the implementation of a closed cycle recirculating system (cooling towers or cooling ponds).
The goal of this regulation is to protect aquatic resources through engineering controls at existing facilities. Any existing facilities not directly covered by this regulation will be subject to Best Professional Judgment (BPJ) standards. In both North Carolina and in South Carolina, the states have been delegated NPDES permitting authority and will administer this program.
There may still be litigation challenges to this regulation. An earlier challenge to these categories was successful in remanding standards which were developed in 2004 and in 2006.