Position Statement on Pilgrim’s Draft EPA Water Pollution Permit

Prepared by CCBW, a project of Jones River Watershed Assoc. (JRWA)

We are urging the public to submit comments to U.S. EPA before July 25, and attend a hearing in Plymouth on July 21 at the Plymouth Public Library (South Street) at 6:15 PM.
Below is information that may assist the public in commenting on the permit.


For the last four years, we have been a watchdog for Cape Cod Bay and have documented and reported on Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s pollution and harm to marine life. In 2014, we called on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) to terminate Pilgrim’s current water pollution permit (“NPDES permit”), which is more than 20 years expired, and due to the massive destruction of marine life caused by Pilgrim’s outdated ‘once-through cooling system’ technology. The system kills billions of marine life, uses massive amounts of seawater, and discharges hot water back into the bay.

Pilgrim is closing no later than May 2019. EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) have proposed to reissue Pilgrim’s NPDES permit and allow Pilgrim to keep operating with the same outdated technology for three more years. The new permit also sets limits on water intake and pollutants discharged to Cape Cod Bay after shutdown (it’s important to note that shutdown does not mean pollutant discharges and water intake end!).

Enough is enough. Pilgrim’s current permit allowing use of its outdated ‘once-through cooling system should be terminated. The new permit should not allow continued use of outdated ‘once-through cooling system’ technology. The new permit should require power production activities that harm Cape Cod Bay to cease prior to any re-fueling, and only focus on activities related to nuclear waste storage and site decommissioning post power production.


The Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) was enacted to protect and improve the health of our rivers, lakes and coastal waters. Under the CWA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) runs a range of water quality programs that set standards and regulates pollutants discharged into U.S. waters. One of these programs is the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. The NPDES program addresses water pollution by giving EPA and most states control over industrial and municipal pollution. Dischargers, like Pilgrim, are required to obtain and meet the standards and limits articulated in NPDES permits.

Pilgrim’s NPDES permit is supposed to protect Cape Cod Bay by setting limits on water intake and discharge of toxic substances, and requiring biological monitoring for marine life. The permit not only covers the cooling water intake system, but also storm drains, backwash operations, and a variety of other outfalls that discharge water and pollutants to the bay before and after shutdown.

EPA and MassDEP (and the NRC) have allowed Pilgrim to operate with an expired NPDES permit for more than 20 years. Regulators are supposed to renew NPDES permits every five years in order to make sure polluters are constantly upgrading their technologies and working toward a “no-pollution” goal. Regulators have failed to do this.

The good news is that, after years of pressure, EPA finally issued an updated, draft NPDES permit this past May. The bad news is that it allows Pilgrim to continue operations under the same outdated and environmentally destructive “once-through” cooling system” until it shuts down in 2019. Pilgrim’s once-through cooling system is not the best technology available to protect the environment. Technologies exist that could entirely replace Pilgrim’s current cooling system or at least mitigate some of the environmental damage and pollution (e.g., closed-cycle cooling or Beaudrey water intake protection system).

EPA has requested the public submit written comments on the draft permit. The agency has also set up a public hearing, where the public can also comment. Directions on how to comment, attend the hearing, and some talking points to help you draft your comments are below.

  • WHEN: Due by July 25, 2016
  • HOW: Address comments to Mr. George Papadopoulos and send by mail, email, or fax.
    • Mail: EPA Office of Ecosystem Protection, 5 Post Office Sq., Suite 100 (OEP06-1), Boston, MA 02109-3912
    • Email: papadopoulos.george@epa.gov
    • Fax: (617) 918-0579
  • WHEN: Thursday, July 21, 2016
  • Meeting time: 6:15 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. (informational session)
  • Hearing time: 7:15 p.m. (public hearing/comments accepted)
  • Location: Plymouth Public Library, 132 South St., Plymouth
  • Room: Otto Fehlow Meeting Room

We are currently in the process of preparing detailed comments to submit to EPA by July 25. Read the draft permit >>
(We suggest starting with EPA’s Fact Sheet on page 82.)

General Comments
  • Pilgrim’s current permit allowing use of its outdated ‘once-through cooling system’ should be terminated, and stricter conditions and a strengthened NPDES permit should apply for the remaining years of operations and throughout decommissioning. The new permit should require power production to cease prior to any re-fueling, and focus on activities including site decommissioning and decontamination post power production. We anticipate this new permit would become effective in spring 2017.
  • Conditions and limits in the permit fail to take into account climate change. To fully understand impacts of Pilgrim’s operations on water resources, EPA must consider climate change. Warming seas, sea level rise, storms, flooding, and increased precipitation could cause further pollutant discharges into Cape Cod Bay and/or exacerbate effects of thermal pollution and impingement/entrainment.
  • EPA should specify that the permit must not be transferred to another company without public review process. This should apply to any transfer, including for another use at the site.
  • Entergy has been noncompliant with the current permit in several ways (e.g., disbanding the required PATC that watched over marine impacts, not carrying out required storm drain testing for nearly a decade, exceeding effluent limits for a variety of pollutants). Enforcement of requirements has been woefully inadequate. EPA should hold Entergy accountable for past violations, and ensure this pattern does not continue with the new permit. It is imperative that EPA (and MassDEP) hold Entergy accountable for exceedances of NPDES permit limits and requirements in order to effectively reduce impacts from Pilgrim’s activities and to protect Cape Cod Bay.
  • EPA should explicitly require all effluent testing be reported publically in monthly discharge monitoring reports so that EPA and the public are able to assess whether requirements are being met.
Pollutant Discharges & Monitoring
  • Reductions and in effluent limits, and new limits for pollutants that were not in the previous permit, are supported.
  • Entergy failed to test storm drains for about 10 years; EPA should invoke penalties to incentivize adhering to permit conditions. EPA’s design of the storm drain sampling regime and increased frequency of sampling is appropriate; however, given the lack of sampling over past decade, EPA should monitor storm drain testing with heightened scrutiny and be prepared to impose enforcement actions when testing is not done or limits are exceeded. At a minimum, penalties should be pre-determined and automatically assessed, although egregious exceedances or unpermitted discharges could incur additional fines.
  • Outfall 013, which drains to Cape Cod Bay during extreme storm events, should be included in the final permit and effluent limits should apply. This is essential given consensus that more intense storms and flooding will increasingly impact the Northeast, and therefore Pilgrim.
  • Stormwater runoff is likely to increase and yard drains will increasingly become conduits for pollution into Cape Cod Bay as flooding increases and sea levels and groundwater rise as a result of global warming. It will be a critical time to monitor these outlets. Stormwater drains should be fitted with backflow prevention to avoid flushing of contaminants into the sea, and will require proper monitoring.
  • Water sampling from 7 electrical vaults found total suspended solids, cyanide, phenols, phthalates, PCBs, antimony, iron, copper, zinc, lead, nickel, cadmium, hexavalent chromium; however, monitoring is not required for all of these pollutants in the draft permit. Cyanide, antimony, nickel, and hexavalent chromium appear to be omitted. EPA should test all 25 electrical vaults, develop a complete list of parameters, then this complete list should be included in final permit.
  • EPA should require extraction of all of the most environmentally harmful pollutants, including tolyltriazole, from water before discharge to Cape Cod Bay.
Cooling Water Intake System
  • Pilgrim’s ‘once-through cooling system’ is not best technology available and should no longer be permitted.
  • If EPA is unwilling to require closed-cycle cooling under the new permit, then a ‘Beaudrey WIP’ system could be designed to retrofit Pilgrim and be installed during refueling/shutdown in 2017. This system could be required for the period post shutdown.
  • In the revised permit, water use is reduced from 510 MGD to 447 MGD before shutdown: this reduction is appropriate, but there should be an established end date for water withdrawals. Prior to refueling in spring 2017 is a prudent time.
  • After Pilgrim shuts down, the draft permit reduces intake to a maximum of 224 MGD daily, and an average of 11.2 MGD monthly. EPA must provide a justification for the large maximum daily withdrawal limit.
Thermal Pollution
  • ·The allowed temperature rise is the same as the current permit (32°F), and is based on a previous variance. This variance is based on a flawed ‘Demonstration Report’ that relies on outdated and incomplete data, an outdated list of “representative important species,” and does not consider changes in Cape Cod Bay such as invasive species, northern migration of species, and ocean warming and acidification. Until thermal impacts are reassessed in light of current information and new thermal plume modeling is done, the variance should be denied.
  • After shutdown, temperature rise is reduced from 32°F to 3°F. This reduced limit seems arbitrary and should instead be consistent with the MA State Water Quality Standards (MA SWQS) limit of 1.5°F. EPA states that it is unclear what will cause the 3°F increase. In order to effectively set thermal limits, EPA should clearly determine and outline which activities will create thermal effluent at outfall 001, and not set limits based on assumptions.
  • For backwash operations, up until shutdown the temperature limit is reduced from 120°F to 115°F. This reduction is supported, but 115°F is higher than allowed by MA SWQS and requires a variance. This limit should either abide by the MA SWQS limits, or impacts from Pilgrim’s thermal effluent should be reassessed in light of global warming and more current information – a new Demonstration Report should be required before a variance is granted.
  • For outfall 010, EPA decision to set temperature limits that meet the MA SWQS is supported; but EPA should use 1.5°F instead of 3°F as the allowed temperature rise.
Biological Monitoring & Endangered Species
  • EPA should require Entergy to fund a mitigation account for restoration and monitoring work in Cape Cod Bay and nearby estuaries throughout the decommissioning process.
  • EPA should require the Pilgrim Administrative-Technical Committee (PATC) be reinstated immediately so that it may provide much needed oversight for marine impacts, and help guide practical adjustments and mitigation efforts during the remainder of operations as well as during decommissioning.
  • EPA states that Pilgrim’s cooling water withdrawals kill billions of aquatic organisms. This massive loss can have indirect, ecosystem-level effects, including disruption of aquatic food webs, nutrient cycles, biodiversity, etc. Entergy claims that this mortality level is not of a magnitude to constitute an adverse environmental impact, but adverse impacts are clear. These impacts warrant dedicated monitoring and mitigation for at least 10 years after shutdown and certainly until decommissioning is complete (up to 60 yrs.).
  • Section 7 re-initiation by NOAA Fisheries would be appropriate given that EPA is revising Pilgrim’s NPDES permit, the newly established, expanded critical habitat area for North Atlantic right whales in Cape Cod Bay, the fact that more endangered right whales are being sighted in the western part of the bay with more frequency, the current special concern status of rainbow smelt, and the on-going monitoring of river herring.
  • Impingement/entrainment monitoring should be required until the spent fuel pool is no longer used, and the intake system is shut down permanently; winter flounder studies should be mandated to continue after shutdown to monitor improvements to populations; Entergy should be required to study and mitigate impacts from Pilgrim’s 40+ years of operations, including at least 10 yrs. after shutdown and until decommissioning is complete (up to 60 yrs.).
  • Entergy no longer carries out rainbow smelt studies, despite Pilgrim continuing to impinge and entrain them with impunity. One study estimates that more than 1,300,000 rainbow smelt are killed each year. Smelt studies should be reestablished.
  • Entergy should be required to monitor for ecosystem changes due to global warming and climate change to fully understand the impact of Pilgrim’s operations.