Washington, D.C.–On Nov. 22, NELC attorneys secured EPA’s sign-off on a settlement agreement requiring the agency to take final action on Clean Water Act regulations governing cooling water intake structures (“CWIS”) – used to cool turbines at power plants and other large industrial facilities – by July 2012. The agreement ends four years of litigation before two federal courts challenging the agency’s earlier refusal to issue these regulations, in direct contravention of the Act’s requirement that facilities using CWIS employ the “best technology available” for minimizing their adverse environmental impact on aquatic ecosystems.

CWIS are known to kill or maim billions of aquatic animals each year, either by crushing them against intake screens or sucking them into the structures themselves. Mindful of these impacts, and knowing that technology existed to lessen them, Congress directed EPA to establish national CWIS regulations by 1976. After thirty years of haphazard implementation, however, the agency declared in 2006 that it would not issue CWIS regulations for existing facilities, leaving the task of fashioning CWIS restrictions for individual plants to beleaguered permit writers.

Frustrated by this disregard of a clear statutory mandate, NELC attorneys sued EPA on behalf of Environment Massachusetts, joining a legal fight involving a dozen other environmental organizations and a host of industry groups. The settlement agreement, endorsed by the U.S. District Court in New York over industry’s objection, paves the way for the imposition of a more robust permitting scheme.

“This isn’t a choice between environmental integrity and rolling blackouts,” said Environment Massachusetts attorney John Rumpler. “Affordable technologies – such as closed-cycle cooling systems – have been used at many power plants for years.”