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Riverkeeper Hails New York’s Decision to Deny Critical Water Quality Certificate for Indian Point


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Permit Denial Blocks Nuclear Plant’s License Renewal

Tarrytown, NY – April 3, 2010 – In a major victory for Riverkeeper and citizens throughout the tri-state area long concerned about the dangers Indian Point poses to public safety and the environment, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied a critical water quality certification required for the relicensing of the Westchester-based nuclear power plant.

As part of its application to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to renew the plant’s license for an additional twenty years, Entergy Corporation, the plant’s owner, must obtain a certification from the DEC that Indian Point’s operation will not violate state water quality standards. Citing the plant’s adverse impact on Hudson River fisheries, as well as the continuing leaks of radioactive waste into the groundwater and the Hudson River, the DEC determined that Indian Point’s continued operation would violate those standards. According to NRC licensing requirements, the NRC cannot issue a license extension to a nuclear power plant unless the plant is certified by its host state as meeting state water quality standards, as required under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act.

“Today’s decision represents a critical turning point in Riverkeeper’s dual campaign to halt Indian Point’s environmental assault on the Hudson River and force the plant’s early retirement due to the risks its continued operation poses to public health and safety,” said Alex Matthiessen, president of Riverkeeper. “Without 401 certification, Indian Point can not, and will not, be relicensed. After decades of Entergy and Indian Point’s previous owners being allowed to operate in clear violation of the Clean Water Act, we applaud the Paterson Administration, Commissioner Grannis and the DEC staff for upholding both the spirit and the letter of the law. We urge the State to hold firm against any efforts to reverse this historic decision.”

In denying the 401 certificate, the DEC determined that the continued use of Indian Point’s antiquated once-through cooling system violates state standards, because it withdraws and discharges about 2.5 billion gallons of river water a day and causes the death of almost 1 billion aquatic organisms per year due to entrainment, impingement, and heat related, or thermal, impacts. Since its inception in 1966, Riverkeeper, together with its partners Scenic Hudson and NRDC, has been fighting to force the owners of Indian Point to use a closed-loop cooling system to protect Hudson River fisheries.

DEC also cited the radioactive contamination caused by leaks from the spent fuel pools at Indian Point as a reason for denying 401 certification. Nuclear waste storage pools at Indian Point have leaked tritium, strontium-90, cesium-137 and other toxic radionuclides into the groundwater under the plant and the Hudson River since at least 2005.

“By taking this action, DEC has put Indian Point’s corporate owners on notice: the days of reaping enormous economic benefits at the expense of the environment are over,” said Phillip Musegaas, riverkeeper’s Hudson River program director.

Riverkeeper Senior Counsel Rebecca Troutman added, “The regulatory scheme presented by this certification presents an important balance between state and federal powers: DEC’s well-founded decision to deny the certification to protect New York’s aquatic resources will be duly noted around the country.”

Since it first intervened in the Indian Point relicensing process, Riverkeeper has argued that New York must deny 401 certification based on the well-documented damage Indian Point causes to the Hudson River’s ecology and aquatic species. This determination by DEC is especially critical now, given the severely depleted fish populations in the Hudson River. Recent studies commissioned by Riverkeeper show that of thirteen key species studied, ten have declined in abundance since the 1980s, and as noted in the Federal Register in 2004, five Hudson River power plants (of which Indian Point is by far the largest and most destructive) collectively entrained 20 percent of the annual spawn of striped bass, 25 percent of bay anchovy, 43 percent of Atlantic tomcod, and up to 79 percent of other species.

On March 25, Riverkeeper submitted formal comments urging the DEC to deny the certification based largely on the impacts cited in the DEC decision.

Background: Under the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA), any applicant for a federal license or permit to conduct any activity that may result in a discharge to waters of the United States must provide the federal agency, which is charged with issuing the license or permit, with a Section 401 certification. The certification, made by the state in which the discharge occurs, declares that the discharge will comply with applicable provisions of the CWA, including the State’s water quality standards. A state’s water quality standards specify the designated use of a water body (e.g., for water supply or recreation), limits necessary to protect the designated use, and policies to ensure that existing water uses will not be degraded. Section 401 is a powerful statutory mandate, which provides states with the ability to, in effect, deny federal permits or licenses by withholding certification, and to impose conditions upon federal permits by placing limitations on certification. In recent years, many states have viewed Section 401 as an important tool in their programs to protect the physical, biological, and chemical integrity of their waters.

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