A new state policy aimed at requiring coastal power plants to stop using a continual flow of sea water for cooling and replacing it with a closed-cycle technology that would end the killing of tens of billions of fish and larvae fails to comply with new federal law because it would not begin to be enforced for as long as 14 years and has loopholes that might allow plants to continue using billions of gallons of water a year indefinitely.

Therefore, the policy may be challenged in court, which is apparently the only way to prevent the new and legally-flawed regulations from being implemented to the ongoing detriment of aquatic life and the marine economies along the California coast.

These are the conclusions of the the Coastal Alliance on Plant Expansion (CAPE), a nonprofit citizens group that has been monitoring present and future plans for the Morro Bay Power Plant for the past 10 years.

In the case of the Morro Bay plant, the policy lists Dec. 31, 2015 as the date by which the 55-year-old facility must stop using any significant amount of water from the Morro Bay National Estuary for cooling. That restriction would likely end the life of the plant because it is designed only to be cooled by a continual flow of sea water, called once-through cooling (OTC). However, the policy’s companion document also states that the plant is no longer needed to meet state energy needs, resulting in one of the most glaring contradictions in the policy.

CAPE has questioned why the plant should be allowed to use Estuary water for five more years if its electricity is not needed to ensure what is called grid reliability but has received no responses from the State Water Resources Control Board, which adopted the policy on May 4.

A Dynegy official, Randy Hickok, said the plant almost certainly will not be able to operate after 2015 under the adopted policy’s water use restriction. He told the Morro Bay City Council the same thing last fall. But he added last week that the company is exploring new water filtering technology to protect against absorbing aquatic life, which might allow the plant to still operate beyond 2015, although he said it seems very unlikely at this time.

The policy will not take effect until it is reviewed by the state Office of Administrative Law, which may take several months.

The OTC policy that was on the water board’s agenda on May 4 was strongly opposed by a wide array of organizations, including CAPE, the city of Morro Bay, the California Coastkeeper Alliance, the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council and the Mills Legal Clinic at the Stanford Law School, plus an estimated 10,000 individuals, who filed comments with the board. Nearly all the groups argued that the policy on the May 4 agenda had been significantly weakened in enforcing federal requirements since an earlier version was made public last fall. And some contended the latest version failed to comply with federal law.

The law in question stems from the Riverkeeper II decision (January, 2007) by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which held that the U.S. Clean Water Act requires “best technology available” to be used to cool power plants and prohibits water from estuaries, bays, deltas, the ocean, lakes, rivers or steams. This decision’s ban on use of water for cooling came about 35 years after the Clean Water Act was amended to cover power plant cooling. The same court in 2004 had issued a virtually identical decision covering new power plants to be built.

As a consequence, the state water board five years ago began developing a statewide policy to implement the decisions. But from the very beginning, the draft versions fell short of what the court decisions required, in the opinion of state and local groups, which have been coordinated by the Coastkeeper Alliance. Twenty-one groups signed the Alliance’s comments opposing the policy that the board took up on May 4.

The groups argued that the draft policy was deeply flawed and would have failed to meet the Clean Water Act’s direction to phase out OTC impacts to coastal and delta ecosystems.

After the May 4 action, the Alliance issued a statement saying the Board adopted a final policy that “addressed many—though not all—of the most critical issues raised by the coalition” and that has “put California on track to phase out once-through cooling.” For example, the standard of feasibility for determining whether a plant owner could seek a waiver from complying with the policy was restored on May 4 after having been removed in the draft policy.

The adopted policy consists of two “tracks” that all plants must follow. All begin in Track 1 with individual compliance dates and requiring a 93% reduction in the flow rate of water taken into the plant. If owners can show compliance with Track 1 requirements is “infeasible,” the board can shift them to Track 2, which requires a 90% reduction in that rate or impacts on sea life.

The draft policy also had allowed mitigation–for example, payment of money or some kind of environmental improvement–as an alternative to complying with the policy. But that, too was removed. It also reduced the potential for continued extensions of deadlines to comply with the policy, the Alliance said.

Other members of the OTC coalition, except CAPE, however, have not made any comments on their assessment of whether the adopted policy adequately conforms to the law.

CAPE believes the final policy is legally deficient in these ways:

  • Feasibility of compliance rests on stated criteria, which include “environmental impacts, local ordinances, regulations, etc.” These criteria are so broad and ill-defined that it would seem to be impossible to determine if waiver claims were legitimate.
  • The water board has the authority to waive compliance dates, if the California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission and the California Independent System Operator, which will act as advisors to the board on implementation of the OTC policy, find such waivers are needed for grid reliability. Therefore, compliance dates could be postponed indefinitely.
  • A study (Electric Grid Reliability Impacts from Once-Through Cooling in California, April, 2008) by the board’s own expert consultant concluded that the plants will only be needed for a few more years and “given a sufficient time to react, the electric industry could likely tolerate and compensate for mass OTC plant retirement at relatively modest costs to the ratepayer” and with the “potential for significant benefits to the environment.”
  • Inserted into the adopted policy is the statement that “cost is not a factor to be considered when determining feasibility under Track 1.” However, section G of the policy still states, “The State Water Board recognizes it is necessary to develop replacement infrastructure to maintain electric reliability in order to implement this Policy and in developing this policy considered costs, including costs of compliance, consistent with state and federal law.” This is contradictory. And cost of achieving best technology available to determine feasibility of compliance is not permissible under federal law.
  • The policy significantly dilutes monitoring requirements that are essential to determine whether progress towards use of best technology available and ecosystem health is being made by power plants over any time period set for compliance.
  • The policy fails to comply with new state climate change requirements being administered by the California Air Resources Board by allowing the old, polluting power plants to operate longer than necessary. In addition, the policy’s assessment of state needs for energy–resulting in allowing existing plants to operate longer than seems necessary–fails to take into account the rising availability and state funding support of alternative energy sources, such as solar power, which was recognized last year by the state Energy Commission as a feasible alternative to conventional power plants.

After years of sharply-reduced use and partial retirement, the 54-year-old Morro Bay Power Plant will be shut down for good in a few years, and no new replacement plant can be built, under just-revealed plans of the owner and a proposed new state policy prohibiting the plant’s continued use of water from the Morro Bay National Estuary, which has killed countless billions of small fish and other marine life over its lifetime.

The existing plant’s uncertain future, ongoing discussions of a possible new and bigger facility, its documented impacts on the marine life of the Estuary and public health across much of San Luis Obispo County and the tax revenues it would produce for local governments have combined to generate sharp debate among residents and community leaders over the past 10 years.

The landmark plant with its 450-foot tall smokestacks would be closed in no more than seven years by 2015 under the proposed new state policy but could be shut down in three years in 2011. In either case, the two remaining operational generating units–the other two were retired several years ago–would continue to operate occasionally and minimally in the summer–the most productive time of the year for aquatic life–if it runs at all.

In a letter to the Morro Bay City Council dated Sept. 9, the plant’s owner, Dynegy, said “continued operation of the plant is unlikely” due to a virtual ban on “the use of sea water for once-through cooling of power plants proposed by the California State Water Resources Control Board.” The letter was placed on the agenda of the Council Monday night (Oct. 13) for planned discussion in closed session later this month.

For several years, the state Board has been developing a new policy restricting use by plants of “once-through cooling” (OTC)–in which a steady flow of water from the ocean or estuaries is withdrawn to cool plant generators and is then discharged as heated water back into the ocean–and is scheduled to adopt the policy as binding regulations early next year. The policy was prompted by a landmark federal appellate decision in January, 2007, that ruled the U.S. Clean Water Act prevents use of once-through cooling by new or existing power plants throughout the nation.

The decision and the proposed new state policy require a cooling technology–”closed-cycle cooling” that recycles a limited amount of fresh water in the plant much like a radiator–that does not use sea water for cooling to avoid destruction of the marine environment. That requirement also applies to any new or replacement plants that are constructed along the California coast under the court decision and the proposed state policy. Although a new Morro Bay plant was not mentioned in its letter, Dynegy recognizes the proposed policy means it will not be able to build a new plant, according to city staff.

This is also because, as the Dynegy letter noted, the city has long refused to allow closed-cycle cooling in any new plant because of alleged visual impacts of the tall cooling units and the noise they give off. So unable to use once-through cooling or closed-cycle cooling, a new plant could not function.

An extensive biological study funded by the plant’s previous owner, Duke Energy, showed that a new plant would destroy between 16% and 33% of the fish and crab larvae in Morro Bay annually. The existing plant due to its limited operating scale does not kill nearly as many larvae but does continue to deplete the Estuary, which is a state Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, or ESHA.

The Coastal Alliance on Plant Expansion (CAPE), a non-profit citizens group founded in 1999, considers the Dynegy letter to be a victory in CAPE’s long fight to make certain that if a new or re-powered Morro Bay plant were built, adequate protections of the Estuary from OTC and public health from air emissions would be ensured. No proposed designs of such a plant have met those standards, in CAPE’s view.

Three years ago, environmental groups, including CAPE, launched an effort to convince the state water board to restrict OTC after the California Energy Commission staff in 2005 released the first study showing how California’s 21 coastal power plants using “once-through cooling are contributing to declining fisheries and the degradation of estuaries, bay  and coastal waters (by killing) billions of aquatic organisms, including fishes, fish larvae and eggs, crustaceans, shellfish and many other forms of aquatic life from California waters each year.”

Planning for alternative uses of the Morro Bay plant site are already underway. A citizens committee appointed by the Council, named the Futures Group, recommended last year that the city consider engaging in a thorough study of non-plant uses, possibly through the establishment of a redevelopment agency. The city is known to be in the process of seeking a planning grant for this purpose. A number of visitor-serving uses of the 107-acre site have been discussed over the past several years, including a marine museum, an arts center and restored natural habitat for public use.

The Council needs to discuss the letter because it also proposes extension of Dynegy’s lease from the city of land between the plant and Morro Rock, under which the “outfall” channel is located. In it flows used cooling water discharged by the plant, which empties into Estero Bay. The city receives $750,000 a year from Dynegy under the lease, and $250,000 of it must be spent on harbor operations and the remaining $500,000 can be used for general purposes by the city, according to city officials.

The current outfall lease expires in 2012, and the letter proposes extending it to Dec. 31, 2014, just before the new state policy’s deadline for halting the use of once-through cooling takes effect in 2015.

The plant has operated at about six per cent of capacity between 2005 and 2007 under a contract to sell electricity generated by the plant to PG&E. A new contract for the same purpose with Southern California Edison between 2009 and 2011 is in the offing, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. Dynegy has no contract for sale of the plant’s electricity this year, the letter states.

However, as the letter explains, if Dynegy cannot sign another contract after 2011 or if the city refuses to extend the outfall least beyond 2012, “the plant will be retired.”

In its letter, Dynegy said the proposed new state policy “would likely have a materially adverse impact to any continued usefulness of (the) Morro Bay (plant). Other cooling technologies such as air cooling or wet cooling towers (types of closed-cycle cooling) are prohibited by City of Morro Bay statute and would in any case be prohibitively expensive.”

This type of cooling has been opposed by the city, particularly during the California Energy Commission’s review of Duke Energy’s application filed in 1999 for a permit to build a new plant, but it is not prohibited by statute or ordinance, city staff said. During that review, the Energy Commission staff concluded that installation of dry cooling in a new Morro Bay plant would cost about 6% more than the overall projected capital investment. But Duke, which later sold the plant to LS Power, claimed it would cost $200 million of the plant’s estimated $800 million cost without evidence of that cost being submitted to the Commission. LS Power was later acquired by Dynegy.

After a near-record five-year review, the Energy Commission in 2004 tentatively approved Duke’s plan for a new plant, despite strong objections by its staff. The approval was contingent on issuance of a federal discharge permit by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has not taken up the matter, in large part because Duke, LS Power and now Dynegy have declined to go forward with the project. The reasons probably are the uncertainties in the state energy market and mounting legal, regulatory and public opposition to the project as designed by Duke and endorsed by LS Power and Dynegy, which would use OTC and increase air emissions harmful to public health.

The Dynegy official who signed the letter, Randy Hickok, wrote, “These (state board) regulations have a proposed time-line for compliance, which for Morro Bay would be Jan. 1, 2015. Though the final form of these regulations is subject to modification until they have been ratified by the water board, the proposed compliance date of Jan. 1, 2015, strikes me as a meaningful milestone beyond which continued operation of the plant is unlikely.”

The proposed state policy says all “new and expanded coastal power plants using seawater for cooling” must use “the best…technology… to minimize the intake and mortality of all forms of marine life.” In addition, it says, “An existing power plant must reduce intake flow and intake velocity, at a minimum, to a level commensurate with that which can be attained by a closed-cycle cooling system.”

There are now 19 plants along the California coast, including Morro Bay and two nuclear plants, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, that come under the new state policy restriction on use of once-through cooling. Most non-nuclear plants would have to comply by 2015 and nuclear plants by 2018, the proposed policy says.

The effects of enforcement of the policy on energy production by plants in the state were estimated in a state study called the Electric Grid Reliability Impacts from Once-Through Cooling in California, which was issued last April.

The study concluded that “more than enough power plants are expected to be operating in 2015 to more than compensate for any or all OTC plant retirements,” and its investigation “showed that given sufficient time to react, the electric industry could likely tolerate and compensate for mass OTC plant retirement at relatively modest costs to the ratepayer.”

The most “realistic scenario,” the study said, “in which some OTC plants would be retired while others repower or convert their cooling systems, showed potential for significant benefits to the environment because the overall power sector would be more efficient and produce fewer emissions, and because marine ecosystem impacts caused by use of OTC technology would be greatly reduced.”


CAPE  believes strongly that any extension of the outfall lease to allow operation of the Morro Bay Power Plant with once-through cooling would be counterproductive both environmentally and economically and would not be in the best interests of residents and taxpayers, whose health and property values as well as businesses could be negatively impacted.

Risk to the Estuary

* Extending the outfall lease has enormous environmental consequences interrelated with economic effects. Our overriding concern is that of risking irreversible damage to the Estuary by continuing to kill its crab and fish larvae and other marine organisms creates a risk to residents and their property values and the businesses that,  in so many ways, rely on the Estuary for their customer market. Both share this potentially-devastating risk because their assets and livelihoods are grounded in a healthy, functioning Estuary. It is a risk because the withdrawal of water containing larvae that are destroyed in the plant, the killing of marine life from urban runoff of pollutants, the discharges from boats using the Estuary and the California Men’s Colony’s release of toxic materials downstream into the Estuary combine to deplete the Estuary of marine life. These harmful effects have been exacting their toll for some 55 years since the first two generating units were built.

Cumulative Impacts Greater

* A new dimension of impacts from the power plant rose to a new level of concern only recently. That involves the overlap of ocean from which the Morro Bay plant and the Diablo plant draw water for their once-through cooling systems and kill billions of aquatic organisms jointly.  California Energy Commission staff concerns about this “cumulative impact” from this overlap in ocean source area for the two plants led the staff to fund a scientific study to measure the extent of that impact. But the study did not go forward because the state water board has indicated it will adopt regulations requiring best technology available that does not use once-through cooling by coastal power plants. But the CEC staff had seen enough evidence that when power plants are near each other and draw their water from common areas, which is also the case in several situations in Southern California, the cumulative effect is greater than if plants were drawing from independent areas.

Multiple Stressors on Estuary

* EPA regulations adopted in 2004 on existing gas-fired coastal power plants broadened the definition of cumulative impacts to include not only “multiple facility intakes…within a specific water body,” but also “the existence of multiple stressors within a water body” and “long-term occurrences of impingement and/or entrainment losses that may result in the diminishment of the compensatory reserve of a particular fishery stock.” So we believe that logically and realistically, cumulative impacts on the Morro Bay National Estuary should be expanded to include not only the common ocean sources of water withdrawals by the Morro Bay and Diablo plants but also (1) the ongoing toxic discharges from the California Men’s Colony that have been documented to kill marine life, (2) pollutant discharges from boats and other vessels using the Estuary, (3) the myriad of contaminants from urban runoff, and (3) the cumulative effects over time as the impacts compound and mount up. This is the real cumulative impact of what the priceless Estuary, which is a national monument that all Americans are responsible for protecting, must endure.

Estuary Could be Put in Jeopardy

* All this means, as the EPA regulations laid out, is that the very existence of the Estuary–on which this community depends–as a healthy, functioning water body could be put in jeopardy. EPA regulations put it this way:

“…EPA is concerned that even if there is little evidence that cooling water intakes alone reduce a population’s compensatory reserve, the multitude of stressors experienced by a species can potentially adversely affect its ability to recover…the opposite effect of ‘depensation’ (decreases in recruitment as stock size declines…) may occur if a population’s size is reduced beyond a critical threshold…In some cases, recovery of the population may not be possible even if the stressors are removed. In fact, there is some evidence that depensation may be a factor in some recent fisheries collapses.”

Collapse has actually occurred elsewhere in the United States. “Both scientists and fishermen have documented the collapse of multiple fish species” in Mount Hope Bay due to the impact of once-through cooling used by the Brayton Point Station, a large power plant owned by Dominion in Somerset, Mass., according to an article in the Boston Globe on Dec. 24, 2006. The Globe in another article on Dec. 18, 2007, reported that the “once-teeming fishing ground on the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border…is now a dead zone for many species.” The articles’ information was drawn from EPA reports and studies. The EPA forced Dominion to convert its once-through cooling system by 2012 to a closed-cycle system after years of filings, hearings, orders and legal challenges by Dominion. It is true that in the case of the Brayton Point plant, bay water was not only withdrawn, killing many fish, as the EPA documented, but heated water from the plant was then discharged back into the bay, which is not the case in the Morro Estuary. However, as EPA indicated, it is not known whether the entrainment and impingement in withdrawal of water alone could have caused the collapse of the species.

Estuary Now Faces Unknown Risk

* Risking a “dead” Estuary is not worth the $750,000 a year that the city has received in recent years for use of the outfall channel on public land by the plant’s owners to continue the major component of these cumulative effects caused by once-through cooling. Duke’s own biological studies showed that the proposed new plant would kill between 17% and 33% of the fish and crab larvae in the Estuary, and we all know that the present plant with only two of its original four generating units still operating has not come close to operating at its capacity. But that is a big part of the threat to the Estuary–we do not know what the impact has been and will be from a plant operating on a limited basis. How can that unknown be calculated as part of the cumulative impacts facing the Estuary and this community? It constitutes an unknown risk, which is the worst kind. So there is no way to predict if continued operation of the plant on a limited basis–with the distinct possibility, if not likelihood, that the other stressors will continue–could tip the Estuary over the edge and into collapse. That news would quickly spread around the state, the nation and possibly the world, and who would want to own property or a business in, much less visit, a coastal community in that degraded situation? We think it is clear that avoidance of that unknown far outweighs almost any amount of money, much less what an extension of the lease under present terms would provide.

Lease Extension Faces Legal Questions

* There also are legal questions raised by any lease extension. The State Lands Commission is acutely aware of the environmental impacts of once-through cooling and in that context, has adopted a resolution opposing lease extensions like the one under consideration in Morro Bay. Although this resolution was later vacated on a technicality, the sense of the Commission-approved policy outlined in the resolution and the intent of the Commission to oppose extensions remain intact. As it noted in the resolution, the Commission has jurisdiction over the public land in which the Morro Bay plant outfall channel is located as well as lands beneath the bay and state-owned tide and submerged land from the shoreline out three nautical miles. It is also charged with managing these lands pursuant to the Public Trust Doctrine, a common law precept that requires these lands be protected for pubic use. The Commission stated that California has a significant number of power plants that use once-through cooling, the majority of which are located on bays and estuaries where sensitive fish nurseries for many important species are located. The environmental costs of entrainment and impingement are high, it stated,  and once-through cooling harms the environment by “killing large numbers of wildlife, including fish as well as larvae and eggs.” The resolution recognized that new Clean Water Act regulations prohibit new plants from using once-through cooling and require a significant reduction by existing plants. The policy on lease extensions was outlined in a resolution adopted on April 13, 2006, even before the landmark federal Second Circuit decision that mandated elimination of once-through cooling for all plants, new or old. The Commission, while urging the California Energy Commission and state water board “to expeditiously  develop and implement policies that eliminate the impacts of once-through cooling on the environment, from all new and existing power plants in California,” pledged for its part to “not approve new leases for power facilities, or leases for re-powering existing facilities, or extensions or amendments of existing leases for existing power facilities, whose operations include once-through cooling, unless the power plant is in full compliance, or engaged in an agency-directed plan to achieve full compliance, with requirements imposed to implement both Clean Water Act  Section 316(b) and California water quality law as determined by the State Water Resources Control Board, and with any additional requirements imposed by state and federal agencies for the purpose of minimizing the impacts of cooling systems on the environment.” This policy position should effectively disqualify any lease extension in Morro Bay because this plant is not engaged in any plan to achieve full compliance with the Clean Water Act, as set forth by the Second Circuit decision. The Commission added that it  explicitly “calls on public grantees of public trust lands to implement the same policy for facilities within their jurisdiction.”  This clearly includes the city of Morro Bay.

Plant Operating with Expired Discharge Permit

* The other legal point involves the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit that allows the plant to withdraw water from the Estuary and then discharge heated water into Estero Bay. For nine years, the Morro Bay plant has been operating with an expired federal NPDES discharge permit. The expired permit has been and is still allowed to remain active on administrative extension without normal required regulatory review every five years. That extension was originally justified by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board staff on grounds that since the Board was about to review an application for a new permit for a new plant when the existing permit expired in 2000, dissolution of the old permit or requiring review of it in the interim while a new permit for a new plant was under consideration would have been inappropriate and an unnecessary burden on the applicant. But Duke Energy and the current owner, Dynegy, have both stated openly and publicly that they no longer had or have plans to build a new plant. In fact, in a letter to the Morro Bay City Council dated Sept. 9, 2008, Dynegy stated it plans to close the plant by 2015 in light of draft state water board regulations prohibiting once-through cooling at such plants. Therefore, the current, expired permit has been illegitimate for approximately the past five years when plans to build a new plant were abandoned, and the administrative extension of the permit cannot be justified now because the rationale for its extension no longer exists. Continued extension does not conform to statutes covering such permits. Pursuant to state and federal law, NPDES permits are to be issued for fixed terms not to exceed five years.  (33 U.S.C. 1342(b)(1)(B); 40 C.F.R. 122.46(a); Cal. Water Code 13378). Although CAPE recognizes that permittees can have their permits administratively extended beyond the initial permit expiration date, the administrative extension of the current NPDES  permit exceeds the reasonable time envisioned for such exceptions to the five-year review requirement. Federal regulations suggest that the administrative extension period is to be used when “issuance is impractical due to time or resource constraints.”  (40 C.F.R 122.6(a)(2)). However, far more than the length of an entire permit cycle has already passed since the last time the Regional Board reviewed and issued an up-to-date permit for this facility. Therefore, the City Council is faced with extending an outfall lease that the State Lands Commission’s policy as stated in a resolution does not sanction and extending a lease that would be used by the plant owner in conjunction with an NPDES permit that is legally invalid, based on statutes just cited.

Unauthorized Impacts on Estuary Continue

* With this illegitimate permit still in effect and no indications that the regional board staff has any interest in reviewing the legitimacy of the permit in light of the absence of any plans to build a new plant, the plant, nevertheless, continues to operate, withdraw millions of gallons of water from the terribly-stressed National Estuary, destroy untold billions of fish and crab larvae from the Estuary with abandon and kill other marine life on the north edge of Morro Rock with its heated discharges, all documented in biological studies submitted to the California Energy Commission and regional board. It seems clear that the plant is imposing unauthorized destructive impacts on an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area in contravention of state policy and state and federal laws.

Other Challenges to Expired Plant Permits

* Morro Bay is not alone in facing a seemingly-timeless permit administrative extension, although ours is the longest-running in the state. The Mirant Corp. has requested the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board to renew an NPDES permit for the Potrero Power Plant that withdraws and discharges water into San Francisco Bay. That permit was granted in 1994 for a five-year term, administratively extended by the Board until 2005 “without public review required by state and federal law,” a Board of Supervisors resolution stated. On May 10, 2006, the permit was extended administratively again to Dec. 31, 2008. Last July 1, Mirant filed an application to renew the permit. Last Oct. 28, the Board of Supervisors unanimously resolved to oppose any new or administratively extended permit “to protect the Bay and the public from further harm” caused by once-through cooling and emissions to the health of “people who live around it.” The Board advocates closure of the plant, but if it is to remain operational, it should not use once-through cooling. If renewal of the permit is not rejected by the regional board, the resolution said the Supervisors would “take all appropriate legal action” to block its continued use.

Best Course for the City Council

* In view of all these facts and circumstances, the best course for the City Council, we believe, is to let the lease expire as scheduled in three years, 2012, and begin moving with dispatch to investigate options for converting the plant site to an alternative use or uses, which would provide a certain revenue stream for the city and its residents long-term, instead of a short-term cash fix. Every year that goes by without long-range planning for a new future for the plant site and the community is a year of lost time for making that happen and lost revenue that the city can count on for the first time in many years.

Revenue Available for Alternative Use Studies

* Revenue to pursue such an alternative use study and plan is available from the Ocean Conservancy, which administers the $5.4 billion bond issue approved by voters in 2006 for beaches, bays and coastal protections and improvements, such as urban waterfront renewal. Advocates of the conversion of the Redondo Beach power plant, which is old and outmoded like the Morro Bay plant, have conferred with Conservancy staff members since 2006 and been told that bond funds would be available for a city-approved plan to convert the plant site to alternative use, such as a park and restoration of the estuary there. We were told during a visit by a Conservancy staff member during a Conservancy staff visit to Morro Bay several years ago that a plant conversion project in Morro Bay would likely be eligible for similar funding under the bond issue. But waiting too long to pursue these funds could lead to other communities laying claim ahead of Morro Bay and exhausting them. The City’s North Embarcadero Waterfront (N.E.W.) Futures Committee has made plain that they, as representatives of residents, favor exploration of alternative uses of the plant site, and their backing will go far in informing and winning the support of voters.

CAPE urges the City Council to look ahead optimistically and plan for the future benefit of the community guided by your leadership in realizing the potential of making the north shore of the Estuary a place that residents can be proud of and that people far and wide will want to visit, which will benefit the city in economic terms in ways that the plant with its numbered days could never match. It is not time to be penny wise and pound foolish when the well-being of Morro Bay’s most valuable and cherished asset may be at risk.

By Jack McCurdy, co-president, Coastal Alliance on Plant Expansion

For more than 50 years, power plants have been drawing sea water from bays, estuaries and the ocean to cool their electrical generators, killing “billions of aquatic organisms, including fishes, fish larvae and eggs, crustaceans, shellfish and many other forms of aquatic life from California waters each year.”

That quote is from a landmark report issued by the staff of the California Energy Commission in June, 2005. It was the first time that any state agency had faced up to the long-term damage inflicted on the marine environment by California’s 21 coastal power plants along the entire length of the coast from Humboldt Bay to San Diego, including the LS Power plant in Morro Bay.

It got zero coverage in the media, but it took on a life of its own, spawning a grassroots movement against use of ocean water for cooling by these plants, or any new or replacement plants. That statewide movement is at its zenith right now.

(This cooling process is commonly called once-through cooling, or OTC, because the water is diverted into plants through intake channels, used to cool generators and then discharged heated back into the ocean. An estimated 17 billion gallons is used daily by the 21 plants.)

Studies required by the U.S. Clean Water Act have often documented the significant loss of aquatic life from OTC used by individual plants on the California coast. But, amazingly, the collective damage in a macro sense had never been assessed or recognized.

Here is how the Integrated Energy Policy Report described it:
“California marine and estuarine environments are in decline and the once-through cooling systems of coastal power plants are contributing to the degradation of our coastal waters…California’s Ocean Action Plan recognized…that the marine environment has been overexploited to the point that its biological integrity and the viability of economies that depend on it are threatened…

“California Energy Commission and other State agencies have shown that coastal power plants that use seawater for once-through cooling are contributing to declining fisheries and the degradation of estuaries, bay and coastal waters. These power plants indiscriminately ‘fish’ the water in these habitats by killing the eggs, larvae, and adults when water drawn from the natural environment flows through the plant (entrainment impacts) and by killing large adult fish and invertebrates that are trapped on intake screens (impingement impacts). These facilities also affect the coastal environment by discharging heated water back into natural environments.”

The report emphasized that “alternative cooling technologies,” such as “dry cooling,” which uses a finite amount of fresh water recirculated in plants as in a car radiator, could drastically reduce or eliminate OTC and the destruction it causes.

The staff recommended a new policy on power plant cooling that would, in effect, eliminate licenses for plants using OTC. But the Commission failed to go along in the final report that went to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for approval.

Undoubtedly, the power companies lobbied against the staff recommendation to end the free “fishing” of those plant owners, refusing the pay the modest costs of alternative cooling technologies but more than willing to allow the public, the state, the environment and coastal-dependent businesses to shoulder the effects–and costs–of broadscale marine degradation.

The Commission and regional water boards, which also must issue permits for coastal plants, have always bent over backwards with a wink and a nod to approve OTC, even accepting evidence from companies that failed to square with the facts.

For instance, at Morro Bay where water is withdrawn from the Morro Bay National Estuary, Duke Energy insisted that dry cooling for its proposed replacement plant would be unreasonably expensive because the cooling units would have to be large enough to cool at an ambient temperature of 84 degrees. The Commission staff called this “irrational” because the official atmospheric record shows that the average is 64 degrees, which would require much smaller and affordable units (costing less than .004 cents per kilowatt).

But the Commission bought Duke’s argument. At Moss Landing, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board approved two large new generating units that use OTC, based just on Duke’s undocumented claim that dry cooling would be too costly. That decision is being challenged before a state appellate court.

In the face of such virtual automatic support for OTC by state agencies, the Commission staff report on marine impacts threw a wrench into the steamroller. Dana Palmer of the Santa Monica Baykeeper and I discovered the report, alerted other environmental groups and got the California Coastkeeper Alliance to spearhead a stateside effort to convince other state agencies to take action to protect the marine environment from these plants.

The Ocean Protection Council, mandated by the California Ocean Protection Act to preserve the state’s coastal resources, called on the state–quoting liberally from the report–“to implement the most protective controls to achieve a 90-95 percent reduction in impacts” from OTC. It also launched its own study of how best to convert the plants to alternative cooling technologies. The State Lands Commission, which also has jurisdiction over the coast, joined in the call for action.

But they both deferred to the State Water Resources Control Board, which has prime statutory authority over industrial use of water, both ocean and fresh. The Board has held several workshops and meetings on a new state policy on OTC by plants, and recommendations from it staff are pending.

But the bombshell that is expected to outlaw OTC came last Jan. 25 when the Second Circuit federal appellate court in New York ruled that existing plants must use “best technology available” (BTA) when being upgraded or replaced. (The decision applies nationally.)

No longer can plants be allowed to continue using OTC and compensate for its damage by paying to restore or protect natural habitat, which has been the common practice, but now declared illegal. (Whether such restoration actually makes up for the loss of aquatic life has never been proven, even though the Commission and regional boards have routinely approved it.)

And no longer can cost of technologies, such as dry cooling, be used to determine whether they must be required. “…total cost is no longer to be considered in comparison to effluent reduction benefits,” the decision said. Cost can be considered, the court said, in selecting which cooling technology to use–but whatever the cost, the one chosen must equal “the performance of the bestperforming technology.”

However, this powerful decision does not minimize the importance of a new state water board policy on OTC–far from it. Power industry appeals of the decision may take a year, and in the meantime, the state board could and should lead the way in implementing the letter and spirit of the decision.

The California Air Resources Board is revered for going beyond federal rules in requiring more stringent air quality standards in California. The same kind of protection of water quality from the destruction visited on our coastal waters and sea life by the wasteful, inefficient and outmoded OTC should be provided to our state and its people, impelled by the court decision.

The immediate question is whether the decision’s requirement of BTA should apply to the current, reduced operations of California’s aging 21 plants. One thing is clear: the court said its decision “applies to existing facilities” and made no exceptions.

As the Commission report noted, “California’s coast in particular (is) in serious decline,” which means that even reduced killing of aquatic life can inflict an even more serious disproportional wound.

Despite that reality, the power industry as a whole continues to demand a right to use OTC, but their unity is beginning to fracture. Owners of old plants in Chula Vista near San Diego, El Segundo and Humboldt County have voluntarily agreed to forego OTC (what happened to the argument that alternative cooling technologies are too expensive?) and incorporate some kind of closed-cycle cooling in the new plants that they hope to replace the old plants with.

As one plant manager told me, his company sees the handwriting on the wall–and the letters spell BTA, not OTC.

To: Rep. Lois Capps
From: CAPE
Subject: Air quality permit for new power plant in Morro Bay

Dear Rep. Capps:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last October conducted a hearing in Morro Bay on a federal air permit sought by the owner of the existing Morro Bay Power Plant, who has indicated an intent to seek approval for a proposed new power plant on the plant site. The permit is called a Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit. No decision on the PSD has been rendered yet.

The Coastal Alliance on Plant Expansion (CAPE), a nonprofit citizens group which for eight years has been advocating effective environmental and air quality controls if a new plant is built, strongly opposes the permit sought by Dynegy, Inc., the new plant owner.

The central and uncontested fact is that ground-level concentrations of particulate matter (PM), which EPA considers a significant health risk, would rise 60% in Morro Bay primarily as a result of the proposed plant’s operating capacity being increased by 20% to 1200 megawatts.

PM are fine particles “that are easily inhaled into the lungs,” EPA says, and scientific studies have linked PM to “significant health problems,” including decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. There is no known safe level of PM. Information on PM is available at http://www.epa.gov/oar/particlepollution/fastfacts.html

An EPA air quality impact report shows PM “to be a pollutant for which the proposed emission change (from a new plant) exceeds the significance threshold” under EPA regulations.

The PM, produced by fuel sulfur, inert trace contaminants and incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons in smokestack emissions, would be controlled by a “combination of good combustion practices and low or zero ash fuel (i.e. natural gas),” the EPA report on the PSD says. It does not state to what levels the PM would be reduced, whether those levels are considered safe and who would be responsible for controlling it or what technology would be used as the control.

The report further states that carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide would be reduced by a new plant while ozone, although it would increase, would be below standards. But a new plant would still release more than 1,500 tons of emissions per year, including PM. This is in comparison to the existing plant’s licensed capacity of 1002 megawatts, despite the fact that the plant is operating with only two of its four generating units and at very low levels.

Another reason PM levels would rise in Morro Bay is because the height of the plant smokestacks would be reduced from 450 feet to 145 feet, which would prevent winds from blowing as much of the PM away from the community surrounding the plant. This was established by a staff report of the California Energy Commission.

The EPA analysis assumes that a new plant would use water drawn from the Morro Bay National Estuary to cool the plant (called once-through cooling), even though that highly controversial process that destroys marine life has not been approved by state regulators, and a new state policy to sharply restrict or prohibit it is under review in the wake of a Jan. 25 decision by the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals requiring best technology available for cooling purposes, which, in effect, prohibits once-through cooling. (An industry appeal of that decision was unanimously rejected by the full Second Court on July 5, 2007.) Alternative cooling technologies, such as dry cooling, “were not analyzed,” the EPA analysis says. This alone renders the EPA analysis completely out of date.

In comments on the proposed permit filed with EPA, CAPE argues that the predicted 200 tons per year of PM emissions are understated by at least 100%. The air quality permit issued by the local Air Pollution Control District in 2001 has long since expired and new stricter state standards may apply. The PM data used in the permit also are outdated by the “overwhelming bulk of scientific investigations of the lethal impacts of this pollutant,” CAPE commented at the EPA hearing. The levels of permissible emissions from the existing plant are overstated because an improper baseline was used.

A proper baseline “would prevent issuance of the PSD permit and as a practical matter would require the owner/operator to elect to pursue a smaller, less polluting plant or forego the modification of the existing (plant) altogether,” CAPE’s comments said.

CAPE cited numerous other flaws in the information submitted by the original applicant, Duke Energy, to EPA. For example, meteorological data were collected from Vandenburg Air Force Base to prepare air quality models for the Morro Bay area without showing how their upper air conditions are similar.

“This leaves the public susceptible to significantly higher than allowable emissions that may spread for miles beyond Morro Bay itself,” CAPE commented to EPA.

The air quality modeling submitted by previous owner Duke Energy to the EPA “assumes no distribution of particulates beyond a six-mile radius of the (plant), whereas all of the scientific literature indicates that particulate emissions are regional pollutants by nature.” The California Energy Commission staff has noted that PM may have long lifetimes in the atmosphere and travel hundreds to thousands of kilometers. In addition, the modeling assumed no severe meteorological conditions of any kind, which could make PM more severe than predicted at times.

Additional details about the flaws and deficiencies of the permit are available at http://www.morrobaypowerplant.org/.

For the reasons stated, we urge you to take the necessary steps to require EPA to address these flaws and deficiencies, which reflect, we believe, a rubberstamping of the plant owner’s request for the PSD without a conscientious review and adherence to federal air quality standards.

Comments on Proposed PSD, to LSP Morro Bay LLC
Morro Bay Power Plant Modernization Project
Permit NO. SCC 2005-01

On behalf of the many members of the San Luis Bay Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation (SLB Surfrider), thank you for the opportunity to submit comments regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit to Dynegy for the Morro Bay Power Plant Modernization Project. The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research and education.

San Luis Obispo (SLO) County has 100 miles of coastline to offer the public for recreational uses. The coastline’s importance to our tourism-based economy is displayed by the variety of ocean enthusiasts from around the world that are attracted to our shores. Furthermore, we have entered an era recognizing the potentially catastrophic impacts of global climate change upon our economy, environment and society. Hence, SLO County, the State of California, and the EPA cannot afford to take a lax approach to developmental decisions that directly impact our environment. The health of the ocean and those who recreate and live near it depend on the highest standards of water and air quality.

Upon review, SLB Surfrider agrees with the Coastal Alliance on Plant Expansion (CAPE) and strongly opposes the proposed PSD permit for the following reasons:

  1. As stated in the U.S. Clean Air Act, our industrial decisions, especially those impacting the nationally protected Morro Bay Estuary, require the EPA to, “protect public health and welfare from any actual or potential adverse effect” from air pollution or from exposure to pollutants, even in the event of “attainment and maintenance of all national ambient air quality standards” by the facility in question. The Clean Air Act also requires the EPA to “preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality” in national areas of special natural, recreational or scenic value. Again, Morro Bay is a nationally protected estuary and deserves higher standards than a PSD that will allow toxic emissions from the proposed new plant to remain at the levels of the existing 50-year-old power plant.
  2. The central and uncontested fact is that ground-level concentrations of particulate matter (PM, both 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter), a potentially lethal toxic emission that the EPA considers a significant health risk, would rise 60% in Morro Bay, partly as a result of an increase in the proposed plants operating capacity by 20% to 1200 megawatts and stated plans to operate it more than the existing plant has been operated.
  3. We agree that the proposed height reduction of the plant smokestacks from 450 feet to 145 feet, makes it less feasible for prevailing winds to blow the PM away from the community closest to the plant and the Morro Bay Estuary. Indeed, the California Energy Commission Final Staff Assessment, Part 1, Part 3, page 4-12, dated April 2002, concluded: “…the actual air quality impacts of the new facility are expected to be greater than the existing facility in nearly all cases. This is primarily due to the much greater stack height of the existing plant…”
  4. We also agree that the local air quality permit, on which the proposed PSD is partly based, has expired, and newer state and federal emissions control standards may invalidate the PSD.
  5. Emission rates for a new plant are contradictory and inconsistent, levels are understated by the applicant, air modeling for PM was inappropriate under EPA standards, the levels of emissions from the existing plant have been overstated to make those of the new plant appear to be lower, the baseline used to determine emissions levels for the existing plant has been inflated and the baseline years are the opposite of what the PSD requires for normal source emissions. We agree that the PM10 emissions levels for the new turbines proposed by the applicant are grossly understated.
  6. The current Best Available Control Technology (BACT) may not allow use of duct burning, which contributes disproportionately to higher emissions, and more advanced and less-polluting turbines are commercially available, which EPA should review and consider as a requirement for the PSD permit.
  7. We are disappointed that closed-cycle cooling and related PM emissions were not reviewed by EPA, even though it has not been ruled as for use by the proposed new plant.
  8. We agree that an appropriate baseline of emissions from the existing plant may show that emissions from a new plant would violate PSD requirements, preventing issuance of the permit–leading to the applicant having to build a smaller, less polluting plant or no plant at all.
  9. The meteorological data used to calculate ground-level emissions are not from Morro Bay, and no evidence has been presented to show that it is relevant to Morro Bay meteorological conditions.

    We agree with CAPE comments that the upper air meteorological data collected for the MBPP site was collected from Vandenburg Air Force Base, which is 45 miles southeast of the plant site. The owner/operator has never provided adequate evidence that this remote site has similar upper air conditions as the MBPP site, nor has it established any upper air meteorological data for the MBPP site itself since the original application was filed in 2000. The remote site data is inadequate for air modeling purposes to predict ground-level emission levels.

  10. It is obvious that out-of-date national standards were used in determining permit compliance, and under newer ones, the proposed plant would not comply, if emissions were calculated correctly.
  11. We agree that the Data analysis for PM 10 was inadequate to determine actual PM10 levels, exposing the public to significantly higher than allowable emissions and at farther distances from the plant.
  12. We deem that Duke’s analysis assumed no distribution of PM beyond a six-mile radius of the plant, even though scientific literature indicates particulates are regional by nature, and the analysis failed to consider extreme meteorological conditions.
  13. Furthermore we agree the PSD permit fails to consider Emission Reduction Credits, which are “offsets” that were used to find the new plant in compliance with local and state air quality standards, despite the fact emissions would still increase and the fact that the PSD is based in part on this compliance finding, serving to hide the real amount of emissions that the public would be exposed to.
  14. Finally, the EPA Ambient Air Quality Impact Report (AAQIR) says the existing plant has operated since the 1950s “without incident” involving agricultural uses, even though many complaints have been made over the years by residents about emissions fallout from the plant, which damaged personal property and local vegetation.


For all of the reasons discussed above, SLB Surfrider strongly supports CAPE’s recommendations to the EPA to conclude that the PSD analysis must be provided for all pollutants based on an appropriate baseline emissions period and that PM10 emissions will clearly cause an exceedance of PM10 PSD increments. We agree that such conclusions would not allow issuance of a permit for the Morro Bay Power Plant Modernization Project as currently proposed.

The San Luis Bay Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation finds the consideration of extending the life of the Morro Bay Power Plant to be damaging to SLO County’s tourism-based economy, human health and the environmental, particularly the Morro Bay National Estuary. In this day of serious global warming concerns our industrial decisions must appropriately reflect the planet’s current environmental condition. In conclusion, the SLB Surfrider Foundation is committed to and supports the development of green technologies and energy conservation techniques that do not pose negative impacts on human health, the economy and the environment. The time is now to drastically reduce our society’s toxic output and proceed into an ecologically abundant future.

Your consideration of our comments is greatly appreciated.

San Luis Bay Chapter
Surfrider Foundation

San Luis Bay Chapter
U.S. EPA Region 9
75 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-3901
(415) 972-3965

San Luis Bay Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation
PO Box 13222
San Luis Obispo, CA 93406

Did you know that you and your family are within reach of toxic emissions that come from the Morro Bay Power Plant–that they may have long lifetimes in the atmosphere and travel hundreds to thousands of kilometers, according to a state agency?

Yes, the existing plant has been running very little for the past three or four years, but did you know that the owners are still intent on building a brand new–and LARGER–plant that would INCREASE potentially-lethal (source: EPA) emissions coming from its smokestacks?

The most dangerous of the emissions is particulate matter (PM), fine particles “that are easily inhaled into the lungs,” EPA says, which scientific studies have linked to “significant health problems,” including decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. There is no known safe level of PM.

Continue reading ‘Let’s show EPA what we think of an ‘air quality’ permit that would open our skies to toxic pollution by packing the EPA hearing on Oct. 24 in Morro Bay’

Talking Points

All residents from Arroyo Grande to Paso Robles and Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo, including Los Osos, are urged to speak out against exposure of the public to toxic emissions from a proposed new Morro Bay power plant. This affects all of us and our elderly and our children, whose health is most in danger from breathing harmful smokestack emissions.

For EPA hearing on air quality permit for proposed new Morro Bay power plant on Tuesday, Oct. 24 between 6 and 9 p.m. in the Veterans Memorial Hall, 209 Surf Street, Morro Bay.

The points are based on facts compiled by the Coastal Alliance on Plant Expansion (CAPE) and drawn from government documents.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposes to grant a “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” (PSD) permit to Dynegy, the new owner of the Morro Bay Power Plant (MBPP), that would ensure that toxic emissions from the smokestacks of a proposed new plant would not increase, compared to the existing 50-year-old plant, and would meet EPA and U.S. Clean Air Act standards. The permit is required for operation of a new plant, as proposed by the owner.

The U.S. Code requires the EPA “to protect public health and welfare from any actual or potential adverse effect” from air pollution or from exposures to pollutants, even in the event of “attainment and maintenance of all national ambient air quality standards” by the facility in question. That federal law also requires the EPA “to preserve, protect, and enhance the air quality” in national areas of special natural, recreational or scenic value. Morro Bay is a nationally-protected estuary.

The central and uncontested fact is that ground-level concentrations of particulate matter (PM, both 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter), a potentially lethal toxic emission that EPA considers a significant health risk, would rise 60% in Morro Bay, partly as a result of an increase in the proposed plant’s operating capacity by 20% to 1200 megawatts and stated plans to operate it more than the existing plant has been operated.

Continue reading ‘Talking Points’

Potential Impacts of the Proposed New Morro Bay Power Plant

Bonita Churney and Pamela Soderbeck – January, 2002

The adverse health impacts resulting from small increases in concentrations of the worst pollutant, particulate matter (PM), are quite significant. These effects are especially severe in infants and children. Although the proposed new Morro Bay Power Plant (MBPP) will have reduced emissions of some pollutants (specifically those that already have concentrations of only about 1/3 of the state regulatory standard), the PM10 emissions will increase and PM10 concentrations are already near or exceed state standards in Morro Bay. Compared to modeled maximum concentrations of pollutants with the existing plant, the modeled maximum concentrations of every key pollutant increase in Morro Bay with the new MBPP. This is because of the dramatically lower stack heights (450 ft. vs. 145 ft.), lower exhaust velocity, and lower exhaust temperature, which more than offset the reduction of some emissions.

Thousands of independent studies by public health professionals have demonstrated that increases of PM10 cause a variety of adverse health effects. Studies focusing on infants and children suggest the following potential adverse impacts that may result from possible PM10 concentration increases with the new MBPP: a 5.73% increase in infant respiratory mortality and a 19.94% increase in SIDS deaths; a 12.70% increase in respiratory hospital admissions in children and a 1.50% increase for infants; a 11.30% increase in emergency room visits for asthma by children; a 14.96% increase in acute respiratory symptoms (based on same day PM1.0 levels) in asthmatic children; a 6.65% to 17.45% increase in lower respiratory illness in young children with mild asthma; a 3.57% increase in restriction of activity of children due to chest illness; and an increase in overall elementary school absences of  9.47%. These are serious potential adverse impacts posing a significant risk to the community, which is directly contrary to the stated goals of the MBPP project and the Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Morro Bay and Duke Energy.

Click below to read the entire report (PDF):
Effects of Particulate Air Pollution on Children

Mortality Displacement and Absence of Threshold: Issues Relating to the Proposed New Morro Bay Power Plant
Bonita Churney and Pamela Soderbeck – December 2001

The adverse health impacts resulting from even small increases in ambient concentrations of inhalable particulate matter (PM10) are quite significant and widely documented by public health professionals. These effects are particularly significant for the most susceptible populations, which include the elderly, those with pre-existing cardiovascular disease (CVD), those with pre-existing respiratory diseases, and those with other potentially fatal chronic illnesses such as diabetes, as well as children and infants. These effects on susceptible populations other than children are discussed in connection with the anticipated increases in PM10 concentrations that will result in Morro Bay, with the proposed new Morro Bay Power Plant (MBPP) compared to the existing plant. Morro Bay is a unique city in many ways, one of which is the relatively high number of elderly residents (24% of the total population).

All cause mortality resulting from increased PM10 concentrations is higher for this group and there are even greater increases in CVD mortality and respiratory disease mortality. This is found when examining the short term, e.g., daily mortality increases associated with daily increases in PM concentrations, as well as chronic mortality increases. These effects are supported by findings of increased risks of hospital admissions for these groups as well. These significant increases in daily mortality rates are not merely the result of mortality displacement (shortening one’s life by a day or two). These significant increases in mortality risks are also linear, meaning a reduction of 1 µg/m3 in PM10/PM2.5 has the same benefit whether the existing ambient concentration is at 15 or 90 µg/m3.

In addition to the mortality risks, there are additive increased health effects in the form of increased hospital admissions and other measures of morbidity from increases in PM10/2.5 of the magnitude expected with the new MBPP. These increased risks include increased hospital admissions for the elderly generally and for both CVD and various respiratory diseases, as well as for diabetes. Other documented significant adverse health effects associated with increases in PM2.5 and PM10 include increased heart rate, decreased heart rate variability, increased incidences of dysrhythmia, and increased defibrillator responses, all of which are recognized risks for CVD mortality.

These increased risks will occur at a significant level in Morro Bay as a result of the increased PM2.5 emissions and resulting concentrations from the new MBPP as compared to the existing plant. Moreover, these are all risks that can be avoided either with modifications to the MBPP as it is now proposed or with a “no project” alternative.

Click below to read the entire report (PDF):
Effects of Particulate Air Pollution on Susceptible Populations Other than Children

For people living outside of Morro Bay, the power plant may seem far enough away that it’s needless to worry about breathing toxic emissions from its smokestacks. But think again.

If you’ve been listening at all over the last six years, since Duke Energy filed the present application to build a new plant with the state, all the talk has been about the predicted 60% increase in ground-level concentrations of potentially-lethal (source: EPA) particulate matter (PM) that Morro Bay residents would be exposed to.

But the reality is that no one knows how far the PM, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone from the plant would carry in the breeze from Morro Bay eastward. It’s a safe scientific bet that it will drift far beyond Morro Bay.

That is why residents in Los Osos, San Luis Obispo, Atascadero, Paso Robles and environs should be aware that a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 24, in Morro Bay is very relevant to them. The hearing will be held between 6 and 9 p.m. in the Veterans Memorial Hall, 209 Surf St., Morro Bay.

The subject of the hearing will be a federal “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” permit (air quality) that the new owner, Dynegy, Inc., needs to build a new plant.

Continue reading ‘So you think you are far enough away from the MBPP to be immune to its toxic emissions? Think again.’

In a laudable spirit of full disclosure, the Scenic Coast Association of Realtors for some years has voluntarily included this statement with offers that buyers make on properties in the area: “Within Diablo Canyon Nuclear Emergency Response Zone.”

The obvious implication is that the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant poses some potential, undefined threat to safety of those within the zone from a possible accident. Maybe so, maybe not, but the Realtors just want people to know.

Now comes a possible new Morro Bay Power Plant that will increase ground-level concentrations of particulate matter, a potentially lethal toxic emission (source: EPA) and spread it over unknown distances.

Given the facts that continue to emerge about the emissions, will the Association feel obligated to include such a statement with offers regarding a new Morro Bay plant once it is built and operating?

The implication obviously will be that there are potential hazards from breathing the emissions from the plant’s smokestacks.

That would seem to raise the question of whether this could affect property values. Diablo is one thing, a new Morro Bay plant another.

Continue reading ‘What will a new MBPP with increased toxic emissions do to property values here?’

Animal study reveals tiny particles in the air are even more damaging when coupled with a high-fat diet       

New York, December 20, 2005—New York University School of Medicine researchers provide some of the most compelling evidence yet that long-term exposure to air pollution—even at levels within federal standards—causes heart disease. Previous studies have linked air pollution to cardiovascular disease but until now it was poorly understood how pollution damaged the body’s blood vessels.

In a well-designed mouse study, where animals breathed air as polluted as the air in New York City, the researchers pinpointed specific mechanisms and showed that air pollution can be particularly damaging when coupled with a high-fat diet, according to new research published in the December 21 issue of JAMA.

“We established a causal link between air pollution and atherosclerosis,” says Lung Chi Chen, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environmental Medicine at NYU School of Medicine and a lead author of the study. Atherosclerosis—the hardening, narrowing, and clogging of the arteries—is an important component of cardiovascular disease.

Continue reading ‘Researchers Show How Air Pollution Can Cause Heart Disease’

USA Today; Arlington; Apr 12, 2000; Traci Watson

ATLANTA — Even relatively low levels of the miniscule air pollutant known as particulates raise the risk of death and serious illness, says a study that examined the link between dirty air and health in 90 of the largest U.S. cities.

The study was released here Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Health Effects Institute, a non-profit research organization supported by the Environmental Protection Agency and by industry sponsors, such as Ford Motor and the American Petroleum Institute. The institute paid for the study.

A scientist who reviewed the study, Sverre Vedal of the University of British Columbia, called the research “monumental,” though he also raised questions about some of its methods.

Also reported Tuesday was a Health Institute-funded review of a pair of controversial studies from the 1990s. The EPA cited them as partial justification for setting strict new limits in 1997 on the amount of particulates in the air, but industry representatives and some scientists criticized the research. The review, however, found both studies to be sound.

The studies came as welcome news to environmentalists and EPA officials, who have long been frustrated in their efforts to crack down on particulates. Last year, the EPA lost an industry challenge in federal court to its tough particulates standard. The case is now being considered for review by the Supreme Court.

The new studies “absolutely” bolster the EPA’s case, said agency official John Bachmann, though he added that the agency still needs to review the studies once they’ve been published. “This does support the case we’ve made that we need regulations.” Industry analysts said the new work settles nothing and new research is needed.

Particulates are a grab bag of pollutants that include specks of soot and minute droplets of acid. They’re generated by diesel trucks, power plants, wood-burning fireplaces, dirt roads, industrial processes and many other sources that are difficult to measure.

The study that examined 90 U.S. cities, known as the National Morbidity Mortality and Air Pollution study, found that for every increase of 10 units of particulates in the air, the risk of death rose by an average of 0.4% nationally. Particulates don’t kill young, healthy people, but they probably hasten death from heart attack, stroke and emphysema, especially in people already ailing.

The studies’ authors found that the risk of death at higher particulate levels went up most dramatically in the Northeast and in southern California. They aren’t certain why, but they suspect that high levels of other kinds of air pollution in those regions are a factor.

A thorough and accurate analysis of all pollutants will ‘not allow issuance of a permit for the MBPP project’

The Coastal Alliance on Plant Expansion (“CAPE”) hereby provides the following comments on the above-referenced Proposed Permit and AAQIR, which are endorsed by the individuals who are resident, own property or working in the area most affected by the proposed project, as provided in the “Endorsements” attached hereto. All capitalized terms used herein are as defined in the Proposed Permit, AAQIR, or specifically defined herein. The purpose of this letter is to provide public comments on the PSD Proposed Permit and AAQIR pursuant to the relevant federal regulations, including 40 CFR § 52.21. For the convenience of the EPA Region 9, the comments are organized in the order of the issues presented first in the AAQIR and then the Proposed Permit.

For all of the reasons discussed above, CAPE strongly urges the EPA to conclude that PSD analysis must be provided for all pollutants based on an appropriate baseline emissions period and that PM10 emissions will clearly cause an exceedance of PM10 PSD increments.

Such conclusions would not allow issuance of a permit for the MBPP project as currently proposed.

Click below to read the entire report (PDF):
Complete CAPE comments on proposed PSD Air Quality Permit