Today marks a new milestone for CLF in our efforts to clean up the lower Charles River. Concluding a five-year negotiation, involving CLF and the other key stakeholders, the EPA issued a new water quality permit for the Kendall (formerly Mirant Kendall) Power Plant, a natural gas cogeneration facility owned by GenOn Energy. The plant is located on the Cambridge side of the Longfellow Bridge.
The new permit requires the plant to reduce its heat discharge and water withdrawal by approximately 95 percent, and to ensure that any heated discharge does not warm the river enough to cause harm.
The outcome is remarkable, not just for the dramatic improvements it will achieve in the lower Charles, but for the way in which the parties “got to yes.”
The plant will meet the new requirements by upgrading its existing “once-through” cooling system, to a new, closed-loop system. Kendall will capture most of the heat generated by the plant and distribute it as steam through a new pipeline to be built across the Longfellow Bridge over the next few years. The combination of the new co-generation turbine and expanded pipeline will allow Kendall to drastically reduce the amount of water it extracts from the Charles River, take more heat out of the plant, and double the amount of steam it can sells to heat buildings in the city of Boston.
It’s what’s known in the business as a “win-win situation.”
Today’s events would not have happened without the incredible efforts of two former CLFers: Carol Lee Rawn, who was a senior attorney in our Boston office, and Jud Crawford, who was senior scientist. They put together the case and the legal challenge to the Mirant Kendall permits based on a demonstration that EPA’s proposed heat discharges would threaten the fish and biological system in the lower Charles. They also showed that the proposed water intake damaged fish eggs, larvae, juvenile and adult fish and that better technologies were available in the market. CLF represented the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA), who was the perfect conservation partner for our effort.
The outcome of this case has taught CLF a number of lessons. First, that being there is half the game. If we hadn’t appealed the EPA permit, none of this would have happened, no question. EPA and Mirant Kendall ultimately showed strong leadership qualities but needed a strong push. Second, that having a range of integrated advocacy initiatives can produce multiple, serendipitous results across the spectrum of CLF’s work in clean energy, clean water, ocean conservation and healthy communities. This single decision will create an opportunity for co-generation in an urban community, improve the health of our rivers and marine life, increase the quality of life for Esplanade users and river fishermen, and reduce green house gas emissions. Third, that a mix of good science and strong legal expertise is essential to our ability to make a credible challenge. And finally, that courtesy of all of the above and the generous and faithful support of our members over the past five years, the Charles may one day be truly swimmable and fishable again.