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EPA Delays Final Cooling Water Rule by Nearly a Year

The EPA will delay finalizing standards for cooling water intake structures at industrial facilities, giving power plants and factories almost a full additional year before they have to comply with a rule staunchly opposed by utilities.

This is the third time in recent weeks the Obama Administration has delayed or softened proposed standards that affect the industrial sector.

The rule, under section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act, requires the location, design, construction and capacity of cooling water intake structures to reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact. The regulations would require permits for facilities that use large volumes of cooling water from lakes, rivers, estuaries or oceans to cool their plants, including steam electric power plants, pulp and paper mills, chemical facilities and petroleum refineries.

Originally, the rules were supposed to go into effect by this Friday. The EPA now says it is looking to finalize the standards by June 27, 2013.

The extension will allow the agency to complete analysis of data, options and public comments on two Notices of Data Availability, the EPA said. The agency issued NODAs in mid-June that presented additional new data and information it received and collected since the proposed rule was published, including alternative approaches to the impingement mortality requirements the EPA is considering.

Earlier this month, the White House quietly modified the EPA’s proposal to limit soot emissions. The EPA in June proposed tougher air quality pollution standards that would have lowered annual exposure limits to fine particle soot from 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The Office of Management and Budget directed the EPA to change the limit to between 12 and 13 micrograms per cubic meter of air, before the proposal could receive public comment.

The EPA also is reviewing pollution limits for new power plants under the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, based on new information provided by industry after the rule was finalized. The agency said the review will provide more information to help evaluate five planned facilities in Georgia, Kansas, Texas and Utah that would be covered by the standards.

The EPA also decided this month to maintain – and not further restrict – greenhouse gas emissions thresholds that target the nation’s largest emitters. The final rule will shield smaller emitters from permitting requirements and establishes a provision that allows companies to set plant-wide emissions limits, known as Plantwide Applicability Limitations, in an effort to reduce permitting burdens on state and local authorities and large industrial emitters. The agency decided not to include smaller sources of pollution in the permitting program after consulting with state governments and evaluating the phase-in process.

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