Trenton — New Jersey Governor Chris Christie broke one of his major environmental campaign pledges last week by dropping a requirement that the 41-year old Oyster Creek nuclear reactor install cooling towers to reduce thermal pollution of Barnegat Bay. As a result, the plant will continue to kill millions of fish, shellfish and marine life for the rest of the decade, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Last week, Gov. Christie announced an Administrative Consent Order that absolved Oyster Creek of the requirement to install cooling towers in return for a commitment to cease operating in 2019. This action reversed a permit requirement imposed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in January of this year. It also broke a pledge candidate Christie made in his 2009 campaign to win a key endorsement from the state’s largest environmental organization.
After years of strenuous and convoluted legal efforts, on January 7, 2010, DEP announced a draft permit requiring Oyster Creek to install cooling towers as “best available technology (BAT) for minimizing adverse environmental impact“ as required under the Clean Water Act, based upon its “best professional judgment” following a detailed cost-benefit analysis. Last week, Gov. Christie upended these detailed technical findings with the stroke of a pen.
“What Governor Christie did was the opposite of science-based decision-making,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, noting that there were no new facts or study justifying this abrupt about face on the highly technical BAT finding. “This snatched a huge environmental defeat from the jaws of a monumental victory with Oyster Creek getting an official seal of approval to decimate Barnegat Bay’s marine life for years to come.”
The effects of Christie’s action will reverberate far beyond Oyster Creek as the eight other reactors in New Jersey facing cooling tower pressures along with more than a score of nuclear plants in New York. As one of the oldest reactors in the country, pollution enforcement action was furthest advanced against Oyster Creek than other plants. Christie’s action may signal that the entire campaign to curb the destructive effects of heated reactor water is moribund. States like New Jersey had been in the forefront as federal agencies have warred with each other on this issue. This spring under a court ordered mandate, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to weigh in on the issue.
“Oyster Creek is a zombie nuke, lumbering along for decades after its design life, and presented the clearest case for cooling towers,” Wolfe added, expressing uncertainty whether proposed cooling tower requirements at other reactors will also be jettisoned. “How New Jersey handles the cooling tower permit condition for the Salem nuclear power plant will tell if BAT policy is dead in the water, so to speak.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability