The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed standards to protect fish and other aquatic organisms based on Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act and pursuant to a settlement agreement with environmental groups. Final action on the rules is due by late July 2012.

In general, EPA said safeguards against impingement will be required for all facilities above a minimum size. It said closed-cycle cooling systems may also be required when appropriate.

Under the proposed rules, existing facilities that withdraw at least 25 percent of their water exclusively for cooling purposes and have a design intake flow of greater than 2 million gallons per day (MGD) would be required to reduce fish impingement. EPA said facility owners and operators will be able to choose one of two options for meeting best technology available requirements for reducing impingement. They may conduct monitoring to show the specified performance standards for impingement mortality of fish and shellfish have been met or they may demonstrate to the permitting authority that the intake velocity meets specified design criteria.

EPA estimated that more than half of the facilities that could be impacted by this proposed rule already use technologies that are likely to put them into compliance with the proposed standard.

EPA also proposed a site-specific determination for fish entrianment. This proposed rule establishes requirements for the facility owner to conduct "comprehensive studies and develop other information" as part of the permit application. It then establishes a public process "by which the appropriate technology to reduce entrainment mortality" would be implemented at each facility after considering site-specific factors.

EPA said that because new units can incorporate the most efficient, best-performing technology directly into the design stage of the project, the proposed rule would require closed-cycle cooling (cooling towers) for new units at existing facilities.

The public will be able to comment on the proposal upon its publication in the Federal Register. EPA will conduct a 90-day comment period. The administrator must take final action by July 27, 2012. 

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