NRECA says Clean Water Act changes would hurt generation, transmission

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) wants the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers to rethink a proposal to ‘federalize’ some streams, wetlands, ditches and dry streams under the Clean Water Act.

In formal comments filed Nov. 14, the rural cooperative organization detailed its reasons for opposing the current proposal to expand the definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act.

In comments submitted for NRECA by its Senior Principal – Environmental Policy Dorothy Allen Kellogg, the association said the expanded definition would have implications for both rural electric power generation and transmission.

“Expanded CWA jurisdiction, as would occur if the proposed rule is finalized without significant change, would affect cooperatives by delaying and increasing the costs for (1) constructing and maintaining power lines; (2) operating and maintaining existing and new generation, including generation from both traditional fuels like natural gas and renewable sources; and (3) decommissioning existing generating facilities,” NRECA said in its comments.

Power lines require regular maintenance, including repair and replacement of lines, poles and towers. Cooperatives expect to spend about $7bn over the next 10 years on transmission, NRECA said.

Cooperatives say rule would blur current half-acre standard

The rural cooperatives like the system set up through the White House Rapid Response Team for Transmission (RRTT), which is designed to streamline transmission projects and cut permitting timelines. “One way to streamline permitting is by relying on nationwide permits – especially the Corps’ Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) for utility lines and associated access roads,” NRECA said.

Under NWP 12 cooperatives are able to construct, maintain, and repair power lines, access roads, poles, towers, and substations so long as each “single and complete” project – each separate and distinct crossing of a WOTUS – does not result in the loss of more than one-half acre of WOTUS. Cooperatives endeavor to configure lines and structures to avoid many wetland and streams to stay within the half acre limit.

The expanded definition of waters of the United States, however, would “significantly limit, if not eliminate, cooperatives ability to stay within the NWP 12 limits,” NRECA said in its comments.

The proposal would also create headaches for power generation, NRECA said.

Generating facilities rely on multiple water management features located within the plant footprint including storm-water conveyances like canals, ditches, washes, swales, arroyos, containment basins, and ponds. Other water management features include cooling ponds, spill diversion ditches, raw water and service water ponds, intake and discharge canals and other ditches.

These sites help control and manage wastewater and prevent pollutants, including heat, from reaching WOTUS sites, NRECA said. Many such sites “are currently, and appropriately, covered by the waste treatment system exclusion,” NRECA said.

“The agencies state that they do not propose any substantive changes in the exclusion. Unfortunately, the existing exemption has not always been implemented consistently – the same type of feature being excluded in one instance but treated as jurisdictional in another,” NRECA said.

“Electric cooperatives maintain and improve the electric infrastructure upon which millions of Americans rely each day,” said NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson in a statement. “Rural electric cooperatives are successful small businesses. But they stand to get walloped under this proposed rule,” Emerson said.

NRECA said the proposal would expand the number and types of waters subject to all sections of the Clean Water Act by redefining several key terms such as “neighboring” and “tributary.”

In addition, NRECA is supporting federal legislation, such as H.R. 5078, to bar EPA and the Corps from finalizing the rule prior to consultation with stakeholders. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on a 262-152 bipartisan vote Sept. 9, NRECA said.

NRECA is the national organization for more than 900 not-for-profit rural electric utilities that provide electric energy to approximately 42 million people in 47 states.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.