This week, EPA promulgated a new rule governing the construction and operation of cooling water intake structures that are used in connection with a number of industrial activities. Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act directs EPA to publish standards governing the design and operation of such structures if they are part of an operation that otherwise needs a Clean Water Act discharge permit. Such structures are used by electric generating, sugar and confection, beverage, pharmaceuticals, soap, paper, textile and other plants. The new standard requires that qualifying facilities reduce harm to fish and other aquatic resources caused by these structures taking out millions of gallons of water from neighboring rivers and streams.
The kicker, however, is the agency’s cost-benefit analysis. EPA estimates the costs of implementing the rule to be $274.9 million, and estimates the benefits to be $32.8 million, a cost-benefit ratio 8.38:1. In other words, the rule produces $1 of environmental benefit for every $8 of environmental protection purchased. Not quite a sweetheart deal. And not, in my view, “the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact.”