Testimony

Maya K. van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper

1/23/01

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network opposes the draft permit issued by NJDEP to PSE&G for operation of its Salem Nuclear Generating Station.  We do not believe the terms of the permit fulfill the requirements of the Clean Water Act, and we do not believe the terms of the permit fulfill NJDEP's obligation to protect the natural resources of the Delaware Estuary.

The draft permit fails to minimize the fish kills at Salem as required by the law.

Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requires NJDEP to issue a permit that "shall require that the location, design, construction, and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact."  Case law, agency interpretations and NJDEP all agree that this means the terms of the permit must minimize the impingement and entrainment impacts of Salem.

Every year Salem kills over 3 billion Delaware River fish including Bay Anchovy, Weakfish, Striped Bass and White Perch.

Ten years ago NJDEP hired an expert that said PSE&G could reduce these fish kills by over 95% by installing cooling towers which would reduce the amount of water they withdrawal from the River.  A more recent technology, called dry cooling, (which was not even considered by PSE&G or NJDEP) was recently declared BTA at the Athens facility along the Hudson River.  Dry cooling reduces water withdrawals by over 99%, and if used at Salem would likely reduce their fish kills by 99%.  These technologies would minimize Salem's fish kills and therefore they set the standard that must be achieved under the law.  The Clean Water Act requires a permit that will "reflect" this same level of protection for our River fish -- namely a technology that will reduce Salem's fish kills by 99%.

NJDEP has rejected the cooling tower technology without proper justification, relying most heavily on the costs to implement this technology at Salem.  Fulfilling the requirements of the law, protecting the natural resources that belong to our communities, these are the costs of doing business for Salem.  It is PSE&G's responsibility to shoulder these costs.  It is not the public's responsibility to shoulder these costs in the form of dead fish.

We have hired an independent consultant to look at the cost figures included in PSE&G's permit application and upon which NJDEP based its decision.  Our economic analysis of the

various technologies PSE&G considered for use at Salem demonstrates that it would cost only about $11 per year per ratepayer to install cooling towers at Salem which according to PSE&G's figures would reduce its fish kills by 86%.  By comparison, the sound deterrent, strobe light approach costs only 12 cents a year but also only saves an additional 1.3% of the fish killed by Salem.  These calculations are based on PSE&G's own figures.

The requirements in the draft permit will not come close to the 95% reduction in fish kills that other proven technologies can provide. 

The draft permit is largely based on information submitted by PSE&G which is faulty, misleading and filled with bias and data gaps.

In 1999, when PSE&G's permit came up for renewal, the company submitted over 150 volumes of information, data and arguments to support its case that it should be allowed to continue to kill Delaware River fish unimpeded.  To its credit, NJDEP took the advice of environmental groups including Riverkeeper, ALS, NJEF, EAGLE, COA and the Coalition for Peace and Justice, and hired an independent expert to help them review PSE&G's materials.  But, to its discredit, NJDEP is once again choosing to ignore their expert's findings, just as they did with Versar in 1994.

ESSA Technologies' 154 page review of PSE&G's permit application documents ongoing problems with PSE&G's assertions and findings including bias, misleading conclusions, data gaps, inaccuracies, and misrepresentations of their findings and damage.  Some examples of ESSA's findings:

        With regards to fisheries data and population trends, ESSA said "The conclusions of the analyses generally overextend the data or results." (p. ix)

        PSE&G "underestimates biomass lost from the ecosystem by perhaps greater than 2-fold." (p. xi)  " the actual total biomass of fish lost to the ecosystem is at least 2.2 times greater than that listed in the Application."  (p. 75)

        "Inconsistency in the use of terminology, poorly defined terms, and a tendency to draw conclusions that are not supported by the information presented detract from the rigor of this section and raises skepticism about the results.  In particular, there is a tendency to draw subjective and unsupported conclusions about the importance of Salem's impact on RIS finfish species."  (p. 77)

        Referring to PSE&G's discussion and presentation of entrainment mortality rates ESSA found PSE&G's "discussion in this section of the Application to be misleading." (p. 13)

Rather than require PSE&G to fix the many shortcomings in their application, NJDEP is choosing to ignore them.  Instead, NJDEP is rewarding PSE&G's misinformation with a new draft permit that allows them to continue killing over 3 billion Delaware River fish a year and to continue a wetlands experiment that relies on herbiciding, manipulating and burning sensitive marshlands, depriving the Bay's wildlife and aquatic life of the shelter and food they provide.

The review provided by NJDEP's independent consultant demonstrates that the studies and findings provided by PSE&G, and upon which NJDEP is now acting, is a house of cards -- with biases, inaccuracies, undocumented decisions, and misrepresentations building upon one another, and working together to provide an unclear and unknown picture of the damage Salem is imposing upon the aquatic life of Delaware Bay. 

Before NJDEP made any decisions, and certainly before it issued a draft permit, it was under an obligation to require PSE&G to fix the errors.  The ESSA report contains no less than 51 recommendations for actions which PSE&G needed to take on its existing permit application.  It is our understanding that while NJDEP pursued some of these (which ones we do not know because it was not referenced in the draft permit documents) many of them have yet to be addressed, and still others were turned into permit requirements to be dealt with over the next 5 years.

In addition, NJDEP received comment from the State of Delaware and USF&W, both of whom conducted independent expert review of the permit application materials and found important problems with sampling, data, analyses and conclusions.  Why has NJDEP chosen to ignore the tremendous number of shortcomings identified in the permit application and upon which they based their decisions?  Prior to making any decisions, NJDEP needs to require an accurate, defensible and credible permit application upon which to base its review.

Wetlands destruction program must be stopped.

We are tremendously disturbed that NJDEP is allowing PSE&G to continue its destructive wetlands program.  The goal of the program is to erradicate phragmites from Delaware Bay wetlands and to replace it with other species.

Our concerns are focused on the Alloways and Cohansey creek sites that rely on use of herbicides, mowing, burning and continual marsh manipulation.  To date, PSE&G has applied over 25,000 pounds of herbicides, aerially and by hand, to over 3,000 acres of sensitive marsh land.  The loss of food, shelter and habitat are unacceptable.  The acres of mudflats and/or cropped vegetation cannot be justified.

In addition to the obvious, that the wetlands experiment fails to reduce the impingement and/or entrainment impacts of Salem and therefore does not fulfill the requirements of 316(b), PSE&G is unable to demonstrate that their wetlands experiment, even if successful (which is doubtful at best), actually provides benefits to the estuary ecosystem.

        PSE&G failed to conduct any baseline data that would demonstrate whether or not food and habitat were limiting factors for the aquatic communities of the Delaware River system and therefore whether or not wetlands restoration could have contributed positively to their numbers.

        PSE&G is unable to demonstrate that the wetlands it is seeking to restore are superior, in terms of food and habitat for fish and other aquatic populations, than phragmites.   Scientific studies are documenting that phragmites in fact is not of inferior value to spartina, that it does provide usable and used food, shelter and cover to both aquatic and terrestrial species.  Therefore, PSE&G's entire wetlands experiment is based on a false premise.

        NJDEP acknowledges, it is not practicable to try and demonstrate the number of fish that are benefited by, or the result of, the wetlands efforts.  Without this kind of information there can be no support to the suggestion that the wetlands are benefiting the fish populations of the River more-so than prior to PSE&G intervention

        PSE&G has failed to demonstrate that even if it is successful at replacing the existing phragmites in the Cohansey and Alloway sites with other species of plants, that this change in vegetation is sustainable and will not be overrun by neighboring stands of phragmites within a matter of years.

We were also shocked to see that the original 12 year timeline for the wetlands experiment has now been extended an additional 12 years, with final success criteria only required to be achieved for the Cohansey and Alloway sites in 2012. This new timeline is seen by us as an admission that PSE&G's wetlands experiment is failing and cannot achieve the goals laid out in 1994.  Further, the final permit for Salem cannot be enforceable if it requires action beyond the 5-year timeline of the permit.  Therefore this approach cannot effectively implement the requirements of the Clean Water Act. 

While NJDEP asserts that it will not support a wetlands program that relies on perpetual use of herbicides, NJDEP has taken no concrete steps to demonstrate this commitment.  PSE&G has applied herbicides to sensitive marshlands during 5 consecutive years, the first three of which utilized aerial applications.   And NJDEP has already approved an additional 2 years of herbicide applications.  NJDEP has denied repeated requests by the public that herbicide applications be stopped. 

NJDEP has asserted in its draft permit materials that if it determines that repetitive use of herbicides is the only available method for phragmites control, then it "may" eliminate the "failed" acreage and require other wetland or upland acreage.  But NJDEP fails to provide any criteria by which to gauge this position.  When will NJDEP deem that repetitive herbiciding is "the only available method for phragmites control"?  When will acreage be deemed to be "failed"?  What will the replacement ratio be?  NJDEP's position on this issue is too vague to have value.  NJDEP needs to lay out criteria by which it will make these decisions.  According to our definition, 5 years of herbicide application, with an additional 2 years already requested and permitted, fulfills NJDEP's stated criteria of repetitive herbiciding and failed acreage.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network is opposed to the continued manipulation of the marsh at the phragmites-documented areas, be it herbiciding, mowing, burning, or other measures.  The damage and lost habitat, coupled with the unsustainability of the program in such areas, is too great.  We renew our request to NJDEP that PSE&G should be required to substitute the purchase of wetlands, uplands and horseshoe crab habitats at a ratio of 3 to 1 in lieu of continued "mitigation" efforts at the Alloway and Cohansey wetland sites.  This request is not to fulfill the requirements of 316(b) because clearly protection of wetlands will not stop the Salem fish slaughter.  We request this because PSE&G is doing serious damage to the marsh and depriving the wildlife that rely upon them of food, shelter and habitat.  We request this as a way to put an end to the destruction PSE&G is inflicting on the sensitive wetlands of Delaware Bay.  And we request this as one small way PSE&G can begin to make up for the 22 years of fish kills at Salem.

Conclusion.

With this draft permit NJDEP has failed in its obligation to protect our environment and to implement the requirements of section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act.

The Salem Nuclear Generating Station and PSE&G are the largest predators in the Delaware River.  While fishermen are subjected to size and catch limits, Salem and PSE&G are allowed to kill without limit.  Healthy fish populations are critical to a healthy ecosystem.  Our fisheries are critical to the health of our local economy.  The Delaware Riverkeeper Network opposes the draft permit.

We call on NJDEP to require installation of dry cooling at Salem so as to reduce the facility's fish kills by 99%. 

At a minimum we call on NJDEP to take a step back and to require accurate, unbiased, and scientifically defensible information before making its decision.

And we ask NJDEP to hold off on a final decision until it has the benefit of new and emerging information from EPA directly applicable to this decision.

        In Spring 2001, EPA's Office of Water is planning to convene a meeting of experts to review information on cooling water intake structure technologies and their associated costs for reducing impingement and entrainment impacts.

        By the end of the year EPA will have gathered information specific to the impacts of cooling water intakes on Delaware Bay, including Salem, as part of its 316(b) rulemaking for existing facilities. 

Finally, we request an additional 30 days, beyond the February deadline, to comment on the draft permit.  The draft was issued shortly before the holidays (on December 8).  The result is that the organizations, experts and citizens concerned about this issue have not had appropriate time to review the materials.  It has taken NJDEP a year and a half to review the information and formulate a response.  We believe that the public is not being given adequate time to properly review and respond to your proposal. 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.