The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued a final New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) permit for PSEG’s Salem 1 and 2 plants. The permit allows them to keep the plant running the same way it has been, without cooling towers, for another five years. The present cooling system is responsible for killing 3 billion fish a year, including endangered Atlantic and Bottlenose Sturgeon, a number which would be drastically lower if the plant had the necessary cooling towers. We believe that without a system to reduce fish kills, these permits are insufficient. We feel that they are inadequate and that these permits will only allow the fish kills to continue.

“It is outrageous that the DEP has reissued Salem’s 1 and 2 plants a NJPDES permit for another five years. They care more about PSEG than they do about protecting the environment. The plant will continue to operate for five more years, killing 3 billion fish a year and dumping super-heated water into our waterways. Allowing the plants to run for another half a decade without cooling towers to address these kills is unconscionable. It is especially so in light of the recent federal proposed critical habitat designation for the Atlantic Sturgeon,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The DEP should be called the ‘Department of Excessive Pollution’; these plants will continue to rob the rivers and kill our wildlife. We had to challenge the DEP to do their job and issue the permit in the first place. Now we will challenge this permit in court since they’re more concerned with the polluters than the environment or the billions of fish killed.”

The water is circulated throughout the plants for cooling and then the hot water is dumped back into the river. The Salem plant increases the temperature of the surrounding portions of the Estuary by 8 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit on average, and the increase can be as high as 15 degrees Fahrenheit at times. The superheated water causes algae blooms which reduce dissolved oxygen levels in the bay, impairing the bay ecosystem. The plant is a major contributor to the loss of dissolved oxygen. The discharge water itself, besides being superheated, includes metals like mercury and lead as well as fungicides, algaecides and anti-corrosives. The discharge of mercury that impairs the bay violates the Clean Water Act.

“What is shameful is that the public has helped to pay for these plants. Now PSEG is looking for more public subsidies. By staying open for five more years without cooling towers, 15 billion more fish will die. They want the ratepayers to fund their efforts to make more profit while killing billions of fish a year and polluting our state,” said Jeff Tittel. “The DEP has no justifiable reason to allow that pollution and that slaughter to continue, especially not at the taxpayer’s expense.”

The plants have been using expired permits for ten tears. These permits don’t require a proper cooling system and so the plants are responsible for killing billions of fish a year including dozens of endangered species and thousands of their larvae like the Atlantic and Bottlenose Sturgeons. The taking of these Endangered species violates the state Endangered Species law, violates the federal Endangered Species Law, and the preventing of their takes has to be included in the permit. These fish deaths can easily be prevented with the use of cooling towers. A closed-loop system is feasibly both engineering-wise and economically, but has yet to be required in the outdated or new permits at the PSEG plants in Salem.

“For forty years the DEP has been ignored the Clean Water Act and has allowed the plant to pollute this bay and destroy fisheries. Not only do they kill fish but they dump into the bay many hazardous and toxic chemicals including metals, fungicides, and anti-corrosives. The DEP should really be called the Department of Excessive Pollution. By putting in cooling towers you will create construction jobs that will help grow the local economy while protecting the bay. This plant has been licensed for another twenty years and could continue even longer and that’s why the DEP should require cooling towers as an investment in this facility, the local economy, and the environment,” said Jeff Tittel. “In 1990 the DEP required cooling towers at this plant. Then politics came into play and that requirement was removed. It’s time to take out the politics and do the right thing by requiring a proper cooling system.”

The steps taken by PSEG to try and mitigate these impacts do not work. You cannot mitigate for direct takes of endangered species or the killing of the three billion fish larvae. Planting spartina along the Delaware Bay shore does not mitigate for the fish kills. No matter how many wetlands they attempt to restore, they’re still killing those fish. The courts have ruled that the plants still create a direct impact on the fish and that whatever benefit may incur from those wetlands does not make up for that direct impact of the fish kills. What PSEG is doing by attempting this mitigation is comparing apples to oranges. The mitigation they are using does not work; the wetlands fail and three billion fish a year are still being killed. The new permits should reduce direct impacts.

“This plant robs the river of clean water and kills more than three billion fish a year and with this permit, the DEP is saying they can continue to do so for five more years. The DEP cares more about protecting PSEG than they do about protecting the Delaware River or clean water. The plant has been licensed for another twenty years and therefore should be required to have cooling towers,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We will challenge these permits and fight for new permits with a closed-loop cooling system to reduce the fish kills and pollution. This plant has been getting away with polluting the river for far too long and the DEP needs to do their job.”

Jamie Zaccaria, New Jersey Sierra Club