The highest court in the land will take up a thorny and long-simmering environmental issue that could affect the health of fish populations, and the water available for drinking, in rivers and lakes nationwide.
At issue is how much water power plants can draw to cool condensers if the cost of retrofitting older plants is high. Behind that issue is the death of fish, eggs and larvae, which can be sucked into and killed by power plants by the billions at a single plant.
The issue was born on the Hudson River in New York, where a proposed power plant on Storm King Mountain was abandoned 40 years ago in part because it would have sucked in striped bass from their spawning grounds in large amounts. Several states and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have since passed laws requiring new plants to be built with technology that uses a tiny fraction of the water once needed. Older plants have, in many cases, agreed or been forced to shut down during spawning times, or else have installed various deterrents to keep fish from approaching their water intake pipes.
In 2005, the Bush Administration decided that the cost of upgrades which can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars per plant to build cooling towers should be a consideration. Environmental groups have argued that the Clean Water Act requires the use of the best available technology, regardless of cost. Power plant owners, meanwhile, have argued that the millions of fish eggs and larvae killed have a negligible effect on overall fish populations, given the prodigious spawning power of fish.
The issue has also cropped up in the South, where a months-long drought saw power plants competing for scarce water with communities and farms.
The Supreme Court in its current configuration has generally been friendly to business interests, but it has also made bold rulings that support the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.