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Court Steps Into Utilities Case

•  Recent Cases     updated  2008/04/15 08:43


The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an environmental case in which utility companies want to revive an industry-friendly regulation put in place by the Bush administration.

The dispute with environmental groups revolves around the harm companies cause when they draw water from rivers and lakes to cool electric generating equipment, then return it to the waterway. The process kills aquatic life.

The Environmental Protection Agency allowed the industry to forgo the most expensive solution, installing closed-cycle cooling systems which would cost billions of dollars at 550 generating units around the country including 104 nuclear power plants. The units account for 40 percent of the country's energy production.

The EPA rule allowed the companies to decide how to comply with the Clean Water Act by conducting cost-benefit analyses of the available options.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City ruled against the companies, saying they must adopt the best technology available.

The appeals court called into question EPA's conclusion that closed-cycle cooling costs could not be reasonably borne by the industry.

Last month, the Bush administration said in a court filing that it would support the industry position were the case to come before the Supreme Court.

With a new administration taking office next January, an EPA run by different presidential appointees might choose to change positions on the issue.

Robert Goldstein, general counsel at Riverkeeper Inc., one of the environmental groups involved in the dispute, said "it's about time this law enacted in 1972 get some teeth."



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