PROVIDENCE -- The attorneys general of six Northeast states, including Massachusetts, are suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency over new rules governing water use by power plants, saying that it fails to protect the states' water and fisheries.
Rhode Island is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed yesterday in the First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. The states claim the EPA has relaxed the need for power plants to install "best technologies" on the amount of water they take in from waterways. They argue that the change will degrade the water and harm the environment. They've asked the court to review the Phase II rules and want the EPA to halt the rule from going into effect until the petition has been resolved.
The other states involved are Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York.
"Once again, EPA has put the demands of power plant operators ahead of what is best for our environment," New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said. "These rules violate the Clean Water Act and, if left unchallenged, will do serious harm to the aquatic environment."
Cynthia Bergman, a spokeswoman for the EPA in Washington, said the rule marks the first time the agency has established national guidelines under the Clean Water Act to protect fish, shellfish, and other aquatic animals from death or injury. "The benefits are enormous, (and) we will vigorously defend this rule," she said in a statement.
The Clean Water Act requires power plants to obtain permits for their water discharges. The permit also sets the amount of water plants can take in from public sources, which many do to use in their cooling towers. The rules require the cooling water intake structures "reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact."
The attorneys general claim the EPA has tweaked the rules by being more sympathetic concerning the costs of upgrading to closed-cycle technology, which reduces the total amount of water the plants need to use. Most plants have a once-through cooling system, which has no recycling capabilities. The law states plants can get relief from such technology if the costs are "wholly disproportionate" to the benefits.
"They're making cost a primary consideration," Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said.
Rhode Island has battled for years with the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Mass. over its intake of water from Mount Hope Bay and its heated discharges into it. Lynch has blamed the coal-fired plant's intake of water from Mount Hope Bay for causing a crash in the fish population and for impairing the bay. Environmental organizations make the same charges.
Brayton Point takes in about 1 billion gallons of water from Mount Hope Bay daily. The plant returns what it took at as much as 30 degrees hotter than before, according to EPA analyses.
Brayton Point appealed the guidelines to the Environmental Appeals Board in Washington.