Cooling Off

The State Water Board rebuffed DWP's effort to water down new cooling policies at plants like its Scattergood facility.

In a nail biter, the State Water Resources Control Board got the three votes it needed Tuesday to turn down a broad amendment that would have gutted California’s new Once-Through Cooling policy for power plants. Board members Tam Doduc, Fran Spivy-Weber and Art Bagget supported the motion to uphold the policy and oppose the amendment.

The board also agreed to expedite analysis of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s implementation plan next summer. Over the past year, the DWP has argued numerous times that it can’t meet the OTC policy compliance deadlines for re-powering three of its power plants by the end of 2021.

Earlier, the DWP promised to phase out all OTC, but it wanted until 2031 for Scattergood and up to 2040 for co-generation power plants.  But, then DWP lobbied the State Water Board for a policy amendment to extend the compliance timeframe in exchange to phasing out OTC at all three power plants.  Instead of introducing a narrow amendment for DWP, the State Board proposed an expanded amendment, opening up a Pandora’s box in the OTC policy for co-generation and fossil fuel plants up and down the entire state coastline.

As a result, a number of enviro and fishing communities joined to oppose the expanded amendment for gutting the policy. Linda Sheehan, the executive director of California Coastkeeper Alliance, took lead in the comment-writing and organization effort. Santa Monica Baykeeper, NRDC, Sierra Club and Surfrider also strongly opposed the amendment at the hearing.

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A December to Remember

Packages

Who's naughty or nice? This holiday season holds the promise of great gifts for the regional environment

December brings connotations of the holiday season.  Office parties, vacations, holiday shopping, football bowl games, family gatherings, overeating, lighting the menorah, and Christmas lights and trees.  For Heal the Bay, this December is anything but a time to ease into the new year.  As always, there is our push for year-end giving.  Tis the season for charitable write offs.  Also, once again, Heal the Bay is spearheading the Day Without a Bag event.  Over 25,000 bags will be given away at over 150 locations throughout L.A. County on Dec. 16 as a reminder to bring reusable bags whenever you go shopping.  Once again, partners include L.A. County, Los Angeles, other cities, retailers, grocers and other environmental groups.  This year, the event has spread across much of the state with counties from San Diego to San Francisco participating.

However, this December is as busy as any previous December I can remember.  Continue reading

Crisis Averted

The DWP came to its senses on AB 1552.

Last week the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power gutted and amended a pending state bill (AB 1552) and inserted new language that would have significantly eased newly established rules for how power plants suck in ocean water to cool themselves.  DWP leaders went on the offensive against these regulations, even though an existing city policy on Once Through Cooling legislation doesn’t exist. They moved forward without a city council vote on the proposed legislation. (And in an interesting bit of timing, lawmakers introduced the measure just as the L.A. City Council commenced its two-week summer break.) 

Instead of trusting public process, which considered both economics and grid reliability, the DWP crafted AB 1552 as a cynical exemption that applied only to itself. If the bill became law, DWP would have been able to skirt the intent of the new policy by receiving severely weakened flow reduction targets for its OTC plants in comparison with similar facilities statewide.  The utility even had the nerve to write in a new definition of technical feasibility that is completely inconsistent with the federal Clean Water Act and last year’s Supreme Court ruling on the issue.

Fortunately, the DWP came to its senses late this week and dropped the offensive gut-and-amend legislation, thereby averting a horrible precedent at the state legislature. Even before the clandestine backroom shenanigans began in Sacramento, DWP initiated discussions with the State Water Board last week. Discussions on the DWP compliance plan strategy were promising enough this week to lead the utility to shelve the bill.

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The Fish Won!

The State Water Board voted to curtail once through cooling.

Going into Tuesday’s State Water Board hearing on California’s once-through-cooling policy for power plants, you couldn’t blame me for my usual cynicism about our ability to care for the environment.

 After all, the ongoing Gulf spill is causing catastrophic damage to one of America’s most critical estuaries and fisheries. And Gov. Schwarzenegger decided this week that his personal right to light up a stogie in a state park or beach is more critical than stopping marine debris. (Remember – only you can prevent forest fires!)

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Power Play

Nukes like San Onofre may be exempted from the state's already watered-down policy on once-through cooling.

Good things come to those who wait. Unless you’re a fish.

Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office finally allowed the State Water Board to release a modified once-through-cooling power plant policy. The governor’s office held the policy hostage for months while every major power generator in the state lobbied heavily to weaken the last draft. What a surprise. The power brokers won. They should at least say “Thanks for the fish” like the dolphins in the “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

For those keeping score at home: The State Water Board had already weakened the last version of the policy because of power industry lobbying, but the California Energy Commission, the Public Utility Commission and the California Independent System Operator supported the draft.

The environmental community largely welcomed the draft policy, but still wanted some of the loopholes filled, such as making the preferred compliance method one that does not rely on seawater for cooling power plants and instead requires air cooling.

Meanwhile, despite over two years of a painful public process, a technical advisory committee review and numerous opportunities to comment on the policy, the power industry by and large wanted to maintain the status quo.

Numerous lobbying trips to the governor’s office led to severe erosion of the technically sound policy. What did the power industry get for its troubles? Ka-ching!!  Here goes:

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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.

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Memo to Antonio … continued

It's time to treat L.A.'s rivers as habitat rather than flood control channels. Photo: lacreekfreak.org

Yesterday,  I outlined  my top three green initiatives that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa should tackle in the remainder of his second term. Here’s a look at some other environmental issues that he should make a priority:

Fast-track city approval of a Stream Protection Ordinance in 2010. The Department of Public Works has spent three and a half years working on a stream protection ordinance.  Based on Watershed Protection Division analysis, there are approximately 462 miles of riparian habitat that would receive some level of protection under the draft ordinance.  Council districts 11 (Rosendahl), 2 (Krekorian), and 12 (Smith) all have over 60 miles of habitat, while 11 out of 15 districts have at least 12 miles of habitat.  The ordinance would protect the city’s remaining stream habitat by requiring development buffer zones of 100 feet for soft-bottomed habitat and 30 feet for concrete-lined channels. We need to start treating streams like habitat rather than flood control channels. Unfortunately, the ordinance has been frozen in the mayor’s office for over two years. If the mayor says he wants to protect L.A.’s streams, the ordinance would likely sail through City Council.  Unfortunately, the ordinance is not on the mayor’s radar.

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