Suncoast Waterkeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance and others have filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act.
Driving this action is the “incidental taking” of thousands of sea turtles that get sucked into power plant cooling system intakes, pinned against the intake screens, and either crushed or suffocated to death. This “entrapment” occurs most frequently (85%) with females of breeding age, which not only results in the death of the individual, but eliminates the individual’s potential reproductive contribution to the species.
Power plants in the Suncoast region include Big Bend, Anclote, Crystal River, F.J. Gannon and P.L. Bartow. Their cooling systems’ combined design intake flows total over 10 billion gallons per day. All five employ once-through cooling.
Justin Bloom, environmental attorney and Executive Director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, said, “Antiquated once-through cooling water intakes on Florida’s Gulf Coast are massive killers of our aquatic natural resources. If regulators fully account for the costs associated with these structures, they would mandate commonly used cooling systems that would all-but eliminate these deadly water intakes.”
At least one of the turtle species, the Kemp’s Ridley, is federally listed as an endangered species. The Kemp’s Ridley and Hawksbill turtle are globally listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which includes over 200 nations, as “critically endangered,” the Loggerhead, Leatherback and Green turtles listed internationally as “endangered.”
Nationally, sea turtle mortality from power plants is estimated to lie between 12,600 and over 200,000, of which some 85% are females. There are, for example, 164 power plants that are inside the habitat ranges of the Leatherback and Kemp’s Ridley turtle. The “take” per plant, nationally, is between 46 – 949 turtles annually.
At the heart of the case is “once-through” cooling, in which billions of gallons of water must be run through the plant at high velocity, absorbing heat, and then being discharged, hot, into receiving waters near the plant. Once-through is antiquated, inefficient, and a major killer, even when screened, of marine species of all types at planktonic or larval stages. Billions of fish and crustaceans are killed by once-through power plants.
The brief, filed in San Francisco late Thursday, November 20, alleges that NMFS and FWS, to advise EPA per the requirements of the ESA, completed an Incidental Take Statement, a biological survey of impingement, entrainment and entrapment of sea turtles at U.S. power plants, that did not meet the requirements of the ESA, of the Administrative Procedures Act, or other applicable regulations.
The Services’ biological opinion improperly fails to account for the threat to endangered species posed by the regulations. The cooling water intake structures allowed for by the rule draw billion gallons of water each day from waterways across the country and collectively destroy tens of billions of fish per year and trillions of organisms per year overall, including individuals from at least 266 federally “threatened” and “endangered” species. Among the species impacted are iconic sea turtles, orcas, Hudson River sturgeon, and Pacific Northwest salmon and trout.
By shepherding EPA’s rule through without conducting a national analysis, the Services’ are effectively grandfathering one of the largest sources of harm of endangered and threatened aquatic species without any serious evaluation.
The goal of the coalition filing this action is to compel compliance with the Clean Water Act’s requirement for “Best Available Technology,” in the form of closed-cycle cooling, which uses 90% less water, and hence greatly reduce flow volumes and velocities.
The mission of Suncoast Waterkeeper is to protect and restore the Florida Suncoast’s waterways through enforcement, fieldwork, advocacy, and environmental education for the benefit of the communities that rely upon these precious coastal resources.