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Environmental groups take legal action to address Delaware River fish kills

A coalition of environmental groups is taking Delaware and New Jersey to court over fish kills along the Delaware River.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Delaware Audubon Society, and the Delaware Sierra Club have filed for a Writ of Mandamus in Delaware’s Superior Court demanding that Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) take action regarding an expired permit for the Delaware City Refinery’s cooling system.

The coalition says that the 50 year-old cooling system draws water from Delaware River, killing over 45 million fish a year in the process. The suit is based on the fact that killing this many fish is against the terms of section 316(b) of he Clean Water Act.

Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum says that the permit expired in 2002 and DNREC hasn’t taken action for 11 years.

“They’ve been getting away with their fish kills not in compliance with the law during all of that time simply because DNREC has allowed them to administratively extend an old, defunct permit that doesn’t require new technology in compliance with the law,” said van Rossum.

Van Rossum believes that DNREC will try to use the excuse that the EPA will be issuing guidelines on how to deal with section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act.

“The problem is that that guidance has been supposedly forth coming for a very long period of time,” said van Rossum. “There is a deadline looming in the next month or two in which the EPA promised to issue that guidance. But we expect that that deadline is going to be moved out yet again and I think that the government shut down that began (on October 1) is probably proof that we are right.”

van Rossum hopes that the suit will force the refinery to switch to a closed-cycle cooling system that would cut down the amount of water taken from the Delaware River.

“The majority of the water gets reused and that’s how you reduce your fish kills,” said van Rossum. “You are reducing the volume of water and therefore the number of fish in the water that gets sucked in the plant and as a result, gets killed.”

The coalition estimates the cost of installing a closed cycle cooling system is approximately $75 million. Comparatively, the groups say cost of replacing the number of striped bass that the refinery kills each year costs $428 million.

The Delaware Riverkeeper network is also filing a similar suit with the New Jersey Sierra Club demanding action from New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection regarding Salem Nuclear Generating Station’s cooling system permit.