March 21, 2023
CA Water Board Proposes to Delay Diablo’s Compliance in Violation of the Clean Water Act
Environmental groups tell the California Water Resources Control Board (WRCB) that it must enforce 2024-25 deadline for installing cooling towers for the twin nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon’s Nuclear Power Plant to protect marine life.
San Luis Obispo, CA – March 21, 2023 – In comments filed March 17, 2023, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (MFP), Friends of the Earth (FoE), and Environmental Working Group (EWG) objected to a proposal by the California Water Resources Control Board (WRCB) to extend by five years two 2024-25 deadlines by which Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) must comply with the Clean Water Act (CWA) by requiring the replacement of its “once-through” cooling (OTC) system with a “closed-cycle” system using cooling towers.
Mothers for Peace spokesperson Linda Seeley said, “The cooling towers must be installed on schedule in order to reduce the devastating impacts of the Diablo Canyon OTC system on marine life and habitat.”
In 2010, the WRCB determined that cooling towers are the “best technology available” (BTA) for reducing industrial impacts to marine organisms and ordered PG&E to install them by 2024. But after the 2016 decision to close the reactors in 2024 (Unit 1) and 2025 (Unit 2), at the end of their federal license, the WRCB effectively excused PG&E from installing cooling towers by changing the compliance dates to coincide exactly with the dates of each reactor’s retirement.
In Fall 2022, however, the California legislature passed a bill (SB 846) calling for continued operation of Diablo Canyon until at least 2030.
While the WRCB proposes to summarily extend Diablo’s compliance deadline to line up with the new 2030 deadline called for in SB 846, the groups assert that no such extension is allowed by law. According to MFP attorney Sabrina Venskus, “The WRCB’s Once-Through-Cooling (OTC) Policy with respect to the federal Clean Water Act contains specific procedures and requirements that WRCB must follow when appropriately determining BTA feasibility and compliance deadline extensions.” Further, she said, “The OTC Policy has federal authority, and thus these procedures are akin to federal regulations with the force of federal law, which the state cannot legislatively circumvent. For this reason, notwithstanding the legislature’s claim to the contrary, unless WRCB completes its process of determining whether BTA is cost-prohibitive vis-à-vis its environmental benefits, and supports any such determination with substantial evidence, an extension to OTC for Diablo may not lawfully be approved by WRCB.”
Hallie Templeton, attorney for FoE, said, “The WRCB is not only proposing to violate Federal law by extending the dates for PG&E to install cooling towers but by doing so continues to abet PG&E in harming marine life with its use of its illegal once-through cooling systems.”
“Not only is this proposal for an extension by the WRCB a violation of federal law, on a practical matter, it’s just plain dumb. Skirting safety regulations for a cooling system at an aging nuclear power plant like Diablo Canyon is ill-advised for a host of reasons, including the impact on marine life,” said Caroline Leary, an attorney for EWG.
Read the comments.
Sabrina Venskus, Venskus & Associates, firstname.lastname@example.org; (213) 482-4200
Diane Curran, Harmon, Curran, Spielberg, & Eisenberg, email@example.com (240) 393-9285
Linda Seeley, Mothers for Peace, firstname.lastname@example.org (805) 234-1769