Pop­u­lar lakes to lose pol­lu­tion pro­tec­tions

Arab Times - - SCIENCE -

WILMINGTON, NC, Sept 28, (AP): Nearly 50 years ago, a power com­pany re­ceived per­mis­sion from North Carolina to build a reser­voir by damming a creek near the coastal city of Wilmington. It would pro­vide a source of steam to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity and a place to cool hot wa­ter from an ad­ja­cent coal­fired plant.

Sut­ton Lake be­came pop­u­lar with boaters and an­glers, yield­ing bass, crap­pie, bluegill and other pan­fish. But coal ash from the plant fouled the pub­lic reser­voir with se­le­nium, ar­senic and other toxic sub­stances, en­dan­ger­ing the fish and peo­ple who ate them.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists sued Duke En­ergy, which set­tled the case by spend­ing $1.25 mil­lion pro­tect­ing nearby wet­lands. But now the com­pany – and other US power pro­duc­ers – may have got­ten the last laugh.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion this year com­pleted a long-de­bated re­write of the Clean Wa­ter Act that dras­ti­cally re­duces the num­ber of wa­ter­ways reg­u­lated by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. A lit­tle-no­ticed pro­vi­sion for the first time clas­si­fies “cool­ing ponds” as parts of “waste treat­ment sys­tems” – which are not cov­ered un­der the law.

The US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and the power in­dus­try de­scribe it as a clar­i­fi­ca­tion with lit­tle real-world ef­fect. But en­vi­ron­men­tal groups chal­leng­ing the Trump rule in court say it opens up reser­voirs like Sut­ton Lake to sim­i­lar abuse.

“These lakes are sources of food, drink­ing wa­ter, recre­ation and prop­erty val­ues for sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties,” said Frank Holle­man, an at­tor­ney with the South­ern En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­ter. “They’ve been pro­tected un­der the Clean Wa­ter Act ever since it’s been adopted, all the way back to Nixon. No re­spon­si­ble adult would have stripped away these pro­tec­tions.”

Reser­voirs

The pro­vi­sion on reser­voirs is an ex­am­ple of “hid­den bombs” that could lurk in the new reg­u­la­tion’s fine print, said Mark Ryan, a for­mer EPA at­tor­ney who helped craft the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s clean-wa­ter rule that was re­placed by the sub­stan­tially weaker Trump ver­sion.

“Congress needs to fix this, or it will be tied up in lit­i­ga­tion for­ever,” Ryan said.

The 1972 law re­quires de­vel­op­ers, fac­to­ries and oth­ers who use nav­i­ga­ble wa­ters to get per­mits spec­i­fy­ing how much pol­lu­tion can be dis­charged or wet­land acreage filled. State reg­u­la­tors and the EPA mon­i­tor com­pli­ance and pun­ish vi­o­la­tors.

Dis­agree­ment over which wa­ters are un­der fed­eral ju­ris­dic­tion has pro­duced Supreme Court rul­ings and reg­u­la­tory tin­ker­ing. But cool­ing reser­voirs for power plants were cov­ered un­til the Trump re­write, Holle­man said.

No com­plete list of such reser­voirs is avail­able, but at least a dozen man­made lakes ap­pear to be vul­ner­a­ble now, said Blan Hol­man, also an at­tor­ney with the South­ern En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­ter. Some cover thou­sands of acres, are prized boat­ing and fish­ing spots, and have shore­lines dot­ted with houses.

Among them: 4,900-acre (1,983-hectare) Clin­ton Lake in cen­tral Illi­nois, which was built in the 1970s to serve a nu­clear power plant and is part of a state recre­ation area. Oth­ers are in the Caroli­nas, Ok­la­homa, Ten­nessee and Texas.

Lake Ke­owee, which pro­vides cool­ing wa­ters for a Duke En­ergy nu­clear plant near Seneca, South Carolina, is 26 miles (42 kilo­me­ters) long and up to 54 feet (16.4 me­ters) deep. It’s a wa­ter sports haven and a drink­ing wa­ter source for sev­eral cities.

Alice Guz­ick, who lives be­side the scenic reser­voir in the Ap­palachian moun­tains, said she fears the reg­u­la­tory change will make builders less care­ful to pre­vent runoff as homes spring up along the shore­line.

“That sed­i­ment could cause a lot of pol­lu­tion,” Guz­ick said. “There are many small busi­nesses that would fail if the wa­ter were ever con­tam­i­nated.”

The Edi­son Electric In­sti­tute, which ad­vo­cates for power com­pa­nies, last year asked the EPA and the US Army Corps of En­gi­neers to group cool­ing ponds with un­reg­u­lated waste treat­ment sys­tems, say­ing con­fu­sion over their sta­tus had led to costly law­suits.

But the in­dus­try wasn’t seek­ing a loop­hole to leave large reser­voirs un­pro­tected, said Alex Bond, the group’s as­so­ciate gen­eral coun­sel for en­ergy. He said crit­ics are ex­ag­ger­at­ing what the word­ing change will mean.

“Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the en­tire lake is not con­sid­ered the waste treat­ment sys­tem,” Bond said, but rather the area near a plant where hot wa­ter is dis­charged. “Any­thing be­yond that would be sub­ject to reg­u­la­tion.”

EPA said in a state­ment that fed­eral agen­cies “do not an­tic­i­pate changes in long­stand­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion prac­tices as­so­ci­ated with these sys­tems.”

Duke Power spokesman Philip Sgro said the com­pany pushed for the word­ing change to be sure its coal ash re­ten­tion basins at Sut­ton Lake and other reser­voirs were ex­cluded from the clean-wa­ter reg­u­la­tion. They are be­ing closed and their con­tents moved to land­fills.

“The lakes and reser­voirs used for pub­lic ac­cess and recre­ation will re­main clas­si­fied as wa­ters of the United States, and per­mits will still be re­quired to dis­charge waste­water into them,” Srgo said.

But that’s not what the new reg­u­la­tion says, Holle­man coun­tered. The law has al­ways ex­cluded waste treat­ment sys­tems from cov­er­age, he said, and now those sys­tems have been de­fined to in­clude cool­ing wa­ters, leav­ing no ba­sis for is­su­ing fed­eral per­mits to pro­tect the reser­voirs.

Vi­o­la­tions

The power in­dus­try says state laws also will pro­tect large reser­voirs. But they are of­ten weaker than the fed­eral Clean Wa­ter Act and many don’t al­low ci­ti­zen groups to sue over vi­o­la­tions, Holle­man said.

Wilmington-area en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Kemp Bur­dette said he fears for Sut­ton Lake, a 1,100-acre (445-hectare) reser­voir that a Duke Univer­sity study last year found was still heav­ily con­tam­i­nated with met­als from decades of ash spills even though the coal plant has been re­placed with a nat­u­ral gas sys­tem.

“Re­mov­ing any pro­tec­tion from this lake is go­ing to mean the amount of pol­lu­tion that’s al­lowed to be dumped in here goes up,” Bur­dette, of Cape Fear River Watch, said dur­ing a re­cent boat tour. Great blue herons skimmed the dark, win­drip­pled sur­face in search of fish, while os­preys took wing from sy­camore and cy­press trees lin­ing the shore.

Now that coal ash has been moved from shore­line la­goons to a nearby land­fill, “you could have this lake start to heal it­self,” he said. “But to con­sider this waste­water is a ter­ri­ble thing that’s prob­a­bly go­ing to kill this lake.”

Also:

BER­LIN: Ger­many has launched a new search for a site to store its most ra­dioac­tive nu­clear waste, elim­i­nat­ing a dis­puted site at a for­mer salt mine that was ear­marked decades ago and has long been a fo­cus of protests.

A re­port is­sued Mon­day by Ger­many’s waste man­age­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion, or BGE, iden­ti­fied 90 ar­eas cov­er­ing 54% of the coun­try’s sur­face area as po­ten­tially ge­o­log­i­cally suited for a nu­clear stor­age site. It kicked off what is bound to be a po­lit­i­cally fraught process, with a fi­nal de­ci­sion slated for 2031. The aim is to start us­ing the se­lected site in 2050.

Fol­low­ing the Fukushima nu­clear dis­as­ter in Ja­pan nine years ago, Ger­many de­cided to phase out its own nu­clear power gen­er­a­tion by the end of 2022. But the ques­tion of where to put the waste al­ready gen­er­ated has re­mained un­re­solved. Three years ago, par­lia­ment cleared the way for a sci­ence­based search for a site.

Of­fi­cials are seek­ing a safe home for a mil­lion years for some 1,900 con­tain­ers of waste, which make up only 5% of Ger­many’s to­tal nu­clear waste but 99% of its ra­dioac­tiv­ity, BGE chair­man Ste­fan Studt said.

Trump

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