Steamed With the L.A. Times

The Times ignores that the Scattergood power plant in El Segundo is in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The Los Angeles Times finally ran its long-awaited article on the state’s proposed rule to phase out California’s ecologically devastating once-through cooling power plants over the next 12-14 years. Not surprisingly, reporter Jill Leovy missed the point.

She omitted any discussion of the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act to use Best Available Control Technology to reduce larval entrainment and fish impingment in power plants. Federal courts all the way up to the Supreme Court have upheld the requirement, under section 316b of the act.

And once-through cooling (OTC) doesn’t fit anyone’s definition of Best Available Control Technology. Energy plants that use OTC literally suck the life out of the ocean, diverting millions of gallons of seawater via intake pipes to cool themselves. Somehow, the fact that every coastal power plant in California is in gross violation of the Clean Water Act didn’t get included in the article.

The Times piece didn’t include any information from the reporter’s interviews with the State Water Board or the energy agencies (California Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission and the California Independent System of Operators) that support the draft policy.

If the Times did include this information, the reader would have seen that nearly all of the coastal power plants need to be repowered anyway because they use arcane, energy inefficient technologies. Also, the reader would have seen how California wants to move forward with the policy to self determine how OTC will get phased out rather than waiting for a one-size-fits-few approach from the federal EPA.

Instead, we got the usual “it’s too expensive to protect the environment” argument. The overly simplistic thesis props up the mistaken belief that the enviros are at war with the entire power industry. 

Further inflaming the media-manufactured battle, the article included quotes from David Freeman, the acting G.M. at LADWP. David does not speak for the city of Los Angeles. And the Mayor’s office and the City Council have not taken a position on the policy.

Freeman, a legendary advocate for green power, is not exactly an expert at protecting wildlife. The state’s estimate is that OTC power plants kill between 8%-30% of Southern California nearshore sportfish. That’s a huge impact.

The OTC policy is needed just as much to protect local fisheries as the network of Marine Protected Areas. It would be great for the fishing community to end its silence on the issue and make it clear to the state that the OTC policy is needed to protect members’ livelihood and recreation.

All of the noise about getting rid of coal vs. protecting coastal waters, and the cost of compliance, has given the state cold feet.

In particular, the nuclear power plants’ arguments that getting rid of OTC is too expensive in comparison to the benefits of greenhouse-free power have resonated in Sacramento. As a result, the final policy has been stuck in the Governor’s office for about a month and the hearing on the policy has been delayed multiple times until mid April.

The bottom line — the proposed rule is good for California at many levels. Every major enviro group in the state supports a strong policy, from NRDC to Sierra Club to all of the Coastkeepers to HtB. Even the energy groups are in support. It protects California’s coastal ecosystems. And it will act as a catalyst to repower woefully inefficient coastal power plants.

Now California needs to stand behind the technical recommendation by moving forward on this long overdue policy.

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4 Responses

  1. […] nearshore sportfish. That’s a huge impact. — Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, “Spouting off,” March 1, […]

  2. Dr. Gold

    You are misleading your readers (deliberately? or did you just not read the report that you are misquoting?). What you want the power plants to do is unbelieveably irresponsible (and it will cost all of us) based on the fact that the power plants actually have far less than a 1% impact on the sport fisheries as opposed to your statement that they kill 8 to 30% of the So Cal nearshore sport fish. If you would read the report, you would find that the impact is 8 to 30% of what sport fisherman catch, not 8 to 30% of the available stock. But then if you actually looked at the data, you would find that the species that rise above 1% of the sport fish catch (again not the total number of fish out there) are queenfish, white croaker, jack smelt, shiner perch, walleye perch, black perch, white perch, rubberlip sea perch, sargo, and giant kelp fish. I assume also you are not a fisherman or you would know that these species are not targeted by sport fisherman (except off of piers and jetties) as they are too small, considered a nuisance fish, or difficult to catch because of what they eat. You would also find that several of the large percentage fish of what is caught by sport fisherman are commercially caught fish. For instance the small bait fish queenfish, and the slightly larger white croaker (1 million lbs in 1991 – Leet et al. 1992) are caught literally by the tons by lampara seiners. Surf perch are targeted incidentally by commerical fishers (104,000 lbs in 1991). Jacksmelt and topsmelt 88,000 lbs in 1982 -Leet el al. 1992). If you know what giant kelp fish are then you are aware they are not targeted by any fisherman and are only incidental catches. Now lets look at the fish the power plants catch that are targeted by sport fisherman as they are considered desirable like kelp (calico) bass- less than 0.1% of the sport fishing catch (not the kelp bass out there, just the catch), barred sand bass and spotted bass – both less than 0.1%, halibut, same less than 0.1%, sheephead, less than 0.1%, corbina, spotfin croaker,both less than 0.4%. Now that’s the adult fish, the next step is usually to talk about larval fish – and you should, afterall the power plants suck in and kill 19 billion larvae each year (huge number right). Well considering that the main species entrained are very fecund (average queenfish 300,000 eggs per year), that 19 billion is less than a 100th of 1% (0.0056%)of the estimated 340 trillion larvae present in the bight at any given time (Calcofi Reports latest). Now use these numbers or if you don’t believe them you might try going to the sources (asking the fisheries scientists) and determining the actual impacts yourself.

    • Mike Curtis is a biologist with MBC Applied Environmental Sciences. He is a fisheries biologist at a firm that has coastal power plants as some of their biggest clients. The 8-30% comment on what sportfisherman catch as opposed to available stock is an important point, but it doesn’t eliminate the fact that there is a tremendous impact on sportfish. However, to trivialize the impacts on susbsistence pier anglers is offensive and smacks of a major environmental justice issue. Who does Mike think catches fish on these piers? As a fisheries biologist, he knows darn well that most of the anglers on piers are Latinos or Asians, but I guess he only cares about folks on party boats or their own vessels. I haven’t heard that kind of disregard for consumers of white croaker since I sat in the room with Montrose biostitutes in the nineties that claimed that no one ate DDT and PCB contaminated fish. I didn’t say that the power plants were devastating the yellowfin tuna or rockfish populations, but Curtis has made the giant leap to that conclusion.

      Furthermore, as a scientist, he should know that marine life that may not have commercial or recreational fisheries importance are still players in the ecology of the Southern California Bight. Just because giant kelpfish and many perch species may not be trophies to brag about to your fishing buddies, doesn’t mean they aren’t important in our marine system.

      Then he proceeded to play with numbers in the exact same way that he accused me. By using the denominator of total larvae in the entire Southern California Bight, he intentionally shrunk the percentage impact of losing 19 billion fish larvae annually. I guess localized impacts of once through cooling on impingement and entrainment and turbidity are totally irrelevant. I’m thankful that the Coastal Commission and the scientists working on San Onofre impacts disagreed with him. As a result, Edison has paid a fortune to mitigate the impacts of operating their power plant by reducing impingement and entrainment, creating artificial reefs and restoring a critical coastal wetland.

  3. Well said Mark!

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