Alert 662: The big bad guys, a sick river, some good guys, and “Cooling towers”

Many readers will know about this issue–Green Delaware has written about it quite a bit, and recently even the mainstream press has been paying some attention.

Technically, the problem is simple:  Big bad industrial sites–mainly, in Delaware, Conectiv’s Edge-Moor Power Plant, Valero’s Delaware City Refinery, and NRG’s Indian River Power Plant–pump hundreds of millions of gallons of water out of the Delaware River and Rehoboth Bay every day.  DuPont, Sunoco, and others are also offenders.  The biggest single offender is the Salem/Hope Creek nuclear complex across the river in New Jersey.

Some fish are trapped and killed on the intake screens.  Worse, the eggs and larvae of fish, crabs, and other marine life are ground up and cooked  as they go through the pumps and condensers.

Millions of “adult equivalent” fish are destroyed every year.  Possibly, there are one-half as many fish in Delaware’s part of the river as there would be without Delaware’s three big pumpers.

There’s more:  The discharge of heat from power plants amounts to about two-thirds of the total heat energy in the fuel.  That is, for every unit of electric energy produced, about 2 equivalent units of  “waste heat” are dumped into the air or water.  This “thermal pollution” causes problems, especially in shall, somewhat stagnant Rehoboth Bay, where NRG dumps.

There is no need for this at all.  “Evaporative” cooling towers reduce water consumption by 90-95 percent.  “Dry cooling (like the radiator of a car) nearly eliminates cooling water use.

Another aspect has been far less discussed: The big bad guys use their big return flows of “cooling water” to disperse pollutants. Green Delaware fussed about the permit for the refinery, which allows dumping 38 thousand pounds per day of “oil and grease” into the river.

How can this be, you may ask? EPA allows a certain concentration of oil and grease to be in discharged wastewaters. This is supposed to mean the effluent from a “sewer” plant. But the DNREC “surface water discharges” folk, in their wisdom, allow these concentrations to be multiplied by the total flow of “non contact cooling water.” We’ve been complaining about this for years, but the polluters are happy with it, so the DNREC is happy with it, and the US EPA seems happy with it.

House Concurrent Resolution 7() has been working its way through the General Assembly. The driving force has been citizen activist Richard Schneider, who’s visited the General Assembly dozens of times to lobby for progress towards cooling towers. HCR 7 has been approved by a House committee, passed by the House of Representatives, and will be up before a Senate committed on Wed., June 18, 2009. The meeting will be in the Tatnall Building, next to Legislative Hall in Dover, at 2:30 pm.

HCR 7, whose leading and passionate sponsor is Rep. Billy Oberle, isn’t really that strong. It doesn’t have the force of law and only suggests to the DNREC that cooling towers be required.

But the big bad guys seem to hate and fear it. At the House committee hearing, lobbyists for DuPont, NRG, and Conectiv, and the Evil Chamber (Delaware State Chamber of Commerce) went on and on about why they didn’t like it. Their basic theme was “leave the decision up to DNREC—we have confidence in DNREC.”

I said, in brief testimony: “These polluters are right to have confidence in DNREC, because they know that DNREC will let them keep on if you legislators don’t tell them otherwise.”

No one from the DNREC testified at that hearing. Excuses for that are varied, but the DNREC doesn’t hesitate to testify on issues it cares about.

Does this mean nobody in the DNREC cares? In my opinion, no. Some DNREC staff, especially in the Division of Fish and Wildlife, care very much. The problem is, simply, that the big polluters have a lot more influence. Fish and crabs don’t vote, and fishermen seldom oppose industrial interests.

Roy, Miller, Fisheries director for DNREC, has worked there since 1975. One day he and colleagues went to the refinery and counted 32 thousand fish killed on the cooling water intake screens in one day.

Roy is a quiet person, not given to much public display. He’s retiring on June 30. He’s not saying why, but I doubt he’s pleased by having his pay cut and Governor Markell talking about government employees as if they are nuisances to be minimized.

So this resolution, as I see it, should be named after three people:

Roy Miller, Richard Schneider, and Billy Oberle.

Most important, it should be passed by the Senate,Signed by the Governor, and carried out by the DNREC.

And as for the lobbyists for the big bad guys They make us sick, literally and figuratively. They have great social and financial standing with elected officials.    Why is so hard to make the right thing happen, no matter how obvious it is?  Why is is so much more socially acceptable and financially rewarding to represent the bad guys?

DuPont’s lobbyist:  Derrick Deadwyler

NRG’s lobbyist:      Rhett Ruggerio

Conectiv’s lobbyist: Roger Roy

Refinery lobbyist:   Kimberly Turner, Rhett Ruggerio

Alan Muller

One thought on “Alert 662: The big bad guys, a sick river, some good guys, and “Cooling towers”

  1. Billy B. Oberle

    I own a Scuba Diving operation and still enjoy diving in the local area lakes and streams that will not cause illness or harm to the people or wildlife who live in the area. Water resources are the life blood of all living things. If a few screw it up for the masses. Then you few should ask yourself if you would drink or play in the same water.

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