The state Supreme Judicial Court has upheld Massachusetts' right to regulate the intake of vast amounts of water by the Pilgrim Nuclear Station and other power plants, which can harm fish and other marine organisms.
Power plants use the water to cool equipment then discharge it later -- and hotter -- into waterways. Environmental studies show the heated water can harm aquatic life. The state and environmentalists have also long argued that the sucking in of water can kill vast amounts of fish larvae, eggs, shellfish, and other aquatic organisms – larger creatures become trapped on screens covering the intake pipes, and smaller ones are sucked into the cooling system.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has long regulated the intake and discharge of water used at power plants. But Entergy, the owner of Pilgrim, sued four years ago after the state issued specific regulations spelling out its authority to do so. Entergy argued that the state had authority to regulate only the discharge of water, not its intake.
"This is great news for the Massachusetts environment,'' said Kenneth L. Kimmell, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection. "It clearly gives us the ability to protect our aquatic resources from the potential harms (of intake)."
The SJC, reversing a Superior Court decision, said Pilgrim took too narrow a view of the state's authority and that it has the right to regulate the water intake.
Entergy issued a statement saying, “This decision affirms that the State of Massachusetts has the legal authority to regulate cooling water intake structures within the state. ... According to both the court and the state, this is no new authority for the agency."
The ruling comes as the federal government develops final rules for water intake at power plants. The decision, according to Kimmell, made clear that Massachusetts will have the right to maintain stricter rules if the federal regulations turn out to be weaker.
Kimmell said the decision also recognized the state environmental agency's ability to regulate emerging problems that are not specifically spelled out in state law.
"The court makes clear that our agency has the authority to protect our natural resources from emerging environmental threats,'' he said.
The Pilgrim plant, which is seeking to be re-licensed for another two decades after its original license expires next year, has been in the spotlight in recent weeks because it has a similar design to the most crippled Japanese nuclear reactor. Entergy said the SJC decision has no impact on relicensing.
The state Attorney General’s Office, which argued the case, issued a statement saying, “Power plants, such as Entergy’s Pilgrim Station in Plymouth, withdraw billions of gallons of water from the nation’s waterways each day to cool their facilities. We are pleased that the SJC recognized the important role that MassDEP plays in protecting our water resources at these power plants.”
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