Lesley University intern, Nicole Cameron, writes about Pilgrim’s 1983 and 1988 NPDES permits, and what has transpired with the permit after those expired. Nicki is a 3rd year student at Lesley, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Spanish and will be focusing on the major milestones in Pilgrim’s operating life for the semester. She hopes to become an environmental lawyer and plans to go to Law School once she graduates from Lesley.

Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), Entergy’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station is required to have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. Pilgrim’s NPDES permit regulates the discharge of pollutants into Cape Cod Bay from ten point source discharge locations, sets effluent limits and standards and monitoring and reporting requirements, including a multi-part program for biological monitoring. In Massachusetts, NPDES permits are administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

NPDES permits are required to be reviewed every five years to ensure industries – such as Pilgrim – are utilizing the “best available technology” to minimize water intake, harm onto aquatic life, and overall pollution.

Pilgrim’s NPDES permit was first issued by EPA and MassDEP in 1983 to Boston Edison (the original owner of Pilgrim). The permit was renewed and reissued in 1988 and in 1991, respectively. In 1994 the EPA amended the 1991 permit – this amended 1991 permit expired in 1996 at the end of a five-year term. Pilgrim’s NPDES permit has been expired for 19 years, being administratively extended by EPA for nearly two decades.

The amended 1991 permit is based on Pilgrim operating at a capacity of up to 655 megawatts. However, in 2003 Entergy (purchased Pilgrim in 1999 and current owner) increased Pilgrim’s operating capacity to 715 megawatts. The NPDES permit has never been updated to reflect Pilgrim’s higher operating rate.

Pilgrim’s NPDES permit also doesn’t limit radiological wastes being discharged into Cape Cod Bay. While Entergy must submit monthly Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs) to EPA regarding pollutants and heated effluent being discharged to the Bay, Entergy is not required to report on radiological wastes. Entergy sends separate annual Radiological Emissions Monitoring Reports (REMPs) to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regarding radiological wastes.

Since 2012, local groups have been urging the EPA to update Pilgrim’s NPDES permit. The EPA and MassDEP responded to these groups promising a new draft NPDES permit would be issued – but the agencies missed the Dec. 2013 deadline. So in Jan. 2014, Cape Cod Bay Watch asked EPA to terminate Pilgrim’s current expired permit due to the failure to renew it for almost two decades.[1] If EPA is unable to properly administer and renew Pilgrim’s NPDES permit, then the permit should just be revoked. EPA promised another deadline for an updated NPDES permit by September 2014, which again was disregarded.

Even though two deadlines have been missed, the EPA has finally started the renewal process and has requested information from Entergy about the feasibility of updated technologies being installed at Pilgrim. On July 10, 2014, EPA sent a letter to the NRC asking for consultation regarding Entergy’s response.[2] Likely in the near future, EPA will issue Pilgrim’s new draft permit and will be asking the public for input and comments on the draft documents. This will be an important time for public involvement to ensure the best technologies are required at Pilgrim to minimize negative impacts on the local environment. Stay tuned for more information on the process and how you can get involved.

[1] Cape Cod Bay Watch letter to U.S. EPA. Jan. 2014.

[2] U.S. EPA letter to NRC. Jul. 2014.