Regulators Urged to Investigate Thermal and Toxic Impacts of Discharge from Plant’s Antiquated ‘Once-Through’ Cooling System
SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 28, 2006) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board late yesterday the City’s response to a 31-page petition by community and environmental groups, joining their call for state regulators to more aggressively enforce wastewater compliance by Atlanta-based Mirant Corp. in the operation of its Potrero Power Plant Unit 3. Herrera’s petition lends the City’s legal backing to a number of recommendations by Bayview-Hunters Point Community Advocates and Communities for a Better Environment, urging the statewide board to order its regional counterpart to impose additional limitations on discharge from the plant’s “once-through” cooling system, and to require comprehensive studies of thermal and toxic impacts.
The petitioners also call for the state board to review the extent of contamination by Polychlorinated Biphenyls, or PCBs, in the plant’s water discharge. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PCBs have been demonstrated to pose a variety of serious health risks to humans, including adverse effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects. Under its current permit, Mirant’s Potrero plant uses a “once-through” cooling system that sucks more than 200 million gallons of water daily from the San Francisco Bay, runs it through super-heated plant facilities, and then returns it to the bay as heated, polluted discharge — in violation of minimum environmental standards.
“While we’ve made progress to speed the closure of Mirant’s polluting power plant, the state and regional water boards need to be more aggressive in protecting public health and the Bay’s ecosystem,” said Herrera. “I’m pleased to join with the Bayview-Hunters Point Community Advocates and Communities for a Better Environment to urge the state water board to require Mirant to comply with the law. I am also grateful to Board President Aaron Peskin, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell and S.F. Public Utilities Commission General Manager Susan Leal for their continued leadership to advance the aims of environmental justice and clean, reliable power generation.”
In May, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for the San Francisco Bay Region voted to significantly modify a staff-recommended wastewater discharge permit that would have allowed the plant to continue operating in violation of minimum environmental standards until June 30, 2011. The modified permit approved by the regional board instead lapses on Dec. 31, 2008, with the additional provision that further permits for the company’s once-through cooling system will be denied unless the company can convincingly demonstrate the absence of adverse impacts to the San Francisco Bay. The modification came after City Attorney Herrera, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell and S.F. Public Utilities Commission General Manager Susan Leal urged the regulatory board to adopt an alternative, community-backed permit that would have required Mirant’s plant to come into compliance with environmental standards over time, or agree to close down the plant when its electricity generation was no longer required for reliability. At the time, City leaders acknowledged that the modification was an important interim victory, but that more aggressive regulation was required.
Mirant has been operating its Potrero power plant with the same basic permit requirements since 1994, despite changes to wastewater discharge standards and advances in plant technology that would enable the company to mitigate the environmental damage caused by the plant’s operation.
The administrative matter is Bayview-Hunters Point Community Advocates, Communities for a Better Environment v. Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Bay Region, SWRCB/OCC Files A-1739 and A-1751.