Republicans protest EPA calculations of cooling water rule benefits

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a July 22 letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expressing concerns over cooling water intake rules being considered by that agency.

The letter is to Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at EPA. It asked EPA to refrain from using “inflated benefits calculations” for cooling water intake structures under Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

“The EPA’s rule is designed to reduce the number of fish entering cooling structures, but would impose high costs and burdensome requirements on our nation’s power plants and manufacturing facilities,” said a July 22 Vitter statement about the letter.

EPA’s proposed rule would affect about 1,260 existing power generating and industrial facilities, Vitter added. In 2011, EPA conducted its original cost-benefit analysis using well-established methods that determined the benefits for fishing. EPA then determined that its first analysis was “incomplete” and recalculated the benefits by conducting a national “stated preference survey” that heavily focused on hypothetical questions.

“The results of this survey cannot be taken as credible estimates of potential benefits of the proposed rule and certainly cannot be used to justify spending hundreds of millions or potentially billions of dollars each year,” said the letter, signed by Vitter and three other Senate Republicans. “If EPA were to substitute the survey results for the original benefits calculation, it would interject arbitrariness and unpredictability in the regulatory process and allow regulators to justify actions based on public opinion surveys rather than sound science.”

EPA conducted two separate benefits analyses in little more than a year that resulted in dramatically different conclusions, the letter said. EPA’s original cost-benefit analysis, using conventional methods, determined that the $466m annual costs of the preferred option outweighed the $16.3m annual benefits by a ratio of 29 to 1. Conversely, the annual benefits from the stated preference survey were $2.275bn for the preferred option, with a cost to benefit ratio of 1 to 5. “This is a substantial and questionable increase in benefits, all due to EPA’s decision to rely on a controversial method to recalculate benefits,” the letter said.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.