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The state Department of Environmental Conservation has never required the improvements, and for the past twelve years has not even bothered to renew the permits as the law mandates. Instead, DEC has deferred to industry offers to provide more ecological information and install marginal protective measures.

 

 

A Plea for Closed-Cycle Cooling:

End the last unaddressed industrial impact on the Hudson

By Susan Cleaver

Power plants in Orange, Westchester and Rockland Counties withdraw billions of gallons each day from the biologically rich tidal Hudson River to cool themselves, killing virtually all aquatic life in this massive volume. Hardest hit are the eggs and larvae which form the base of the fish populations and a key link in the food chain, but which die in the billions annually when sucked into the facilities. Millions of adult fish also die when pinned on the screens used to exclude debris from the intakes.

The destruction is entirely unnecessary, since commonly used “closed cycle” cooling would eliminate 95 percent of the mortality by recycling the water. Moreover, the 1972 Clean Water Act requires the facilities to use the best cooling technology available to minimize environmental damage. However, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has never required the improvements, and for the past twelve years has not even bothered to renew the permits as the law mandates. Instead, DEC has deferred to industry offers to provide more ecological information and install marginal protective measures.

Now, after more than 20 years of study, state scientists have recognized the obvious: the massive mortality damages the River’s ecosystem. Governor Pataki publicly affirmed the need to “break the nexus between power plant generation and massive use of water" including retrofitting the existing plants, but DEC’s track record does not inspire confidence. After years of delay the agency is grudgingly reassessing the technology at the Danskammer plant in Newburgh and Indian Point in Buchanan as a result of court orders obtained by environmental advocates and public officials. But DEC’s draft renewal permit would allow Danskammer to continue its destructive once through cooling. Environmental advocates have already called for a public hearing on the weak permit.

With a court order to issue a draft permit for Indian Point – which withdraws up to 2.5 billion gallons per day, by far the largest single impact on the Hudson – by November 14, DEC must reorder its priorities to protect the River as the law requires and as the Governor specified. After more than thirty years since the enactment of the Clean Water Act, twenty years of inconclusive studies and ten years with no permit review whatsoever, it’s time to end the last unaddressed industrial impact on the Hudson.

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Jeffrey Berkman
Orange County Legislature
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