The Newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Chapter
March - April 2007
State agencies working to limit "once-through killing"
Regulations to limit antiquated and damaging power-plant technology
Twenty-one coastal power plants in California use environmentally devastating once-through cooling (OTC) technology. Combined, these plants can withdraw up to 17 billion gallons of seawater - and the life it contains - every day. They discharge this water back into the ocean at elevated temperatures that kill more marine life. This appalling assault on California's ocean and coastal resources is totally unnecessary since far less damaging cooling methods are readily available.
Last July California's State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) proposed OTC regulations for existing facilities that far surpass federal requirements under the Clean Water Act. This resulted in part from advocacy work begun in 2005 by Sierra Club California and a broad coalition of environmental, commercial- and recreational-fishing, and environmental-justice groups. The coalition was organized by the California Coastkeeper Alliance.
Multiple state agencies have responsibilities regarding OTC, but they rarely coordinate. The State Water Board implements Clean Water Act 316(b) regulations, the State Lands Commission leases the land to many of the power plants, and the Energy Commission licenses the plants.
We began our effort in late 2005 by urging the newly formed California Ocean Protection Council, which includes many of the agencies with OTC responsibilities, to take an active role in addressing OTC's harmful effects. At the same time, we engaged in similar advocacy before the State Lands Commission, whose members include the lieutenant governor, the controller, and the head of the Department of Finance. In April 2006, the Lands Commission and the Council both voted unanimously for phasing out OTC and for stronger regulations in the interim. The Council's resolution urged the State Water Board to "implement the most protective controls to achieve a 90 - 95% reduction in impacts." With help from the Sierra Club's Great Coastal Places Campaign, we submitted over 1,200 post cards asking the Water Board to phase out this antiquated and devastating technology.
These resolutions set the stage for the Water Board's proposed policy, which we hope to see adopted early this year. The proposed regulations do not call for an absolute phase-out on a specific timetable, but they are a significant step forward. We will continue to track this process closely.
California has the right and the responsibility to move beyond the minimum standards of the Clean Water Act. Sierra Club California and our coalition will continue to work to ensure that this outdated technology is phased out expeditiously in accord with our state's strong commitment to a healthy coast and ocean.
© 2007 San Francisco Sierra Club Yodeler
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