July 23--PLYMOUTH -- Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency took a lot of flak during Thursday's hearing on a long-overdue water discharge permit at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.
Speakers representing environmental groups on both sides of the bridge criticized practices allowed in the past and called for tighter requirements and increased monitoring for the future.
The water pollutant elimination discharge permit, now in draft form, sets up restrictions for water use, stormwater management requirements and pollution monitoring at the Plymouth plant.
The current permit was issued in 1991 and never updated. Normally renewed every five years, it was simply "administratively" continued by the EPA for the last 20 years.
David Agnew, a Harwich resident and member of the Pilgrim Legislative Advisory Coalition, said the EPA should stand for "Entergy Protection Agency."
Entergy Corp. owns the Pilgrim plant.
"I don't believe the EPA has done much of anything to ensure Entergy is in compliance with the Clean Water Act of the last 20 years," Agnew said.
Trust in the EPA has eroded, said Janet Azarovitz, a Falmouth member of the coalition. "EPA has allowed Entergy to operate without regard for Cape Cod Bay," she said. "Our trust in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is gone. Should our trust in the EPA be gone?"
Mary Lampert, Duxbury resident and director of Pilgrim Watch, suggested establishment of a mitigation fund to cover the damage done to the bay by the plant during the 20 years Entergy operated under the old permit.
Lampert told federal regulators there would also be a question of who should pay for the damage: Entergy for causing it or the EPA for allowing it.
Concern that the draft would allow Pilgrim to continue with an obsolete cooling system that draws nearly 500 million gallons of water daily from the bay was central to Thursday's discussion.
Pilgrim has used a so-called once-through cooling system since it came online in 1972.
The Clean Water Act mandates the "best technologies available" should be considered when new permits are issued, argued several speakers. Newer cooling systems for nuclear plants include closed cycle systems, where water is recirculated after cooling in towers. Additional water is drawn only to replace what evaporates, dramatically reducing water use.
"This is a permit to pollute," said Meg Sheehan, a lawyer and member of Cape Cod Bay Watch. "It allows Entergy to use Cape Cod Bay as a free source of cooling and as a dump."
David Webster, chief of the EPA's water permit branch for the Northeast region, said other systems were considered when drafting the permit. "We looked at cost and benefits and feasibility," he said. "When we looked at estimated plant life, we thought the time to put these technologies in place would go beyond operation time."
Pilgrim is scheduled to shut down in June 2019.
The continued allowance for water discharge into the bay at temperatures about 30 degrees higher than when it was drawn out was raised by Karen Vale, program manager of Cape Cod Bay Watch. "The temperature limits rely on information from the 1970s," she said. "There is not enough updated evidence to prove there are no impacts from the thermal limits in the permit."
Michael Romeo, Entergy's director of regulation and performance improvement, asked the EPA to provide some latitude on the plant's announced closing date, saying nuclear plants are complex. Under the permit draft, certain requirements for water use are in place until June 2019. Water use allowances then drop by 96 percent in the permit, since the plant, once shut down, will use much less water.
Romeo's request prompted some in attendance to wonder if Entergy planned to continue to operate Pilgrim beyond the announced date. Spokesman Patrick O'Brien said Friday that was not so.
"Pilgrim station will close no later than May 31, 2019," O'Brien wrote in an email.
Lampert called for increased monitoring at the plant property, particularly if Entergy puts Pilgrim into SafStor, which essentially mothballs the reactor building for 60 years after the radioactive fuel has been removed.
"During that time there is ample opportunity for contaminants on-site to migrate off-site, and the pitch of the land is into the bay," Lampert said. There are also tanks buried on the property that are more than 40 years old. "At the end of decommissioning, they could be 100 years old," Lampert said.
Comments will be accepted on the draft permit until Monday. After several months of reviewing and responding to comments, the EPA will release the water use permit. Anyone who has submitted a comment on the draft has 30 days to appeal the permit after it is released. If no appeals are filed, the permit will become effective 30 days after the appeal period closes.
-- Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @chrislegereCCT.
(c)2016 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
Visit Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. at www.capecodtimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News