By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court said on Monday that it would decide whether the Environmental Protection Agency can compare costs with benefits to determine the technology that must be used at structures that cool water at power-producing plants.
The justices agreed to hear appeals by Entergy Corp, units of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc and the Utility Water Act Group, which consists of individual energy companies that operate power plants.
They appealed a ruling by a U.S. appeals court in New York that the federal clean water law does not permit the EPA to consider the cost-benefit relationship in deciding the best technology available to minimize adverse environmental impact.
Electric power plants use billions of gallons of water each day from bays, rivers, lakes, oceans and other waterways for cooling of their facilities.
At issue is a rule by the EPA that established requirements for intake structures at large, existing facilities. The rule was intended to protect fish, shellfish and other aquatic organisms from being harmed or killed.
The flow of water into the plants traps large aquatic organisms against grills or screens and draws smaller organisms into the cooling mechanism.
The technologies selected by the EPA include relocation of the intakes, fine-mesh screens, velocity caps, larger intakes to decrease the intake velocity and barrier nets.
The rule was challenged in court by environmental groups and by the states of Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island on the grounds it was not strict enough.
The EPA's rule would affect about 550 facilities that account for about 40 percent of the nation's energy production, the Bush administration said.
It rejected stricter proposals, like requiring existing plants use closed-cycle cooling technology, which reuses withdrawn water. That would cost more than $3.5 billion a year nationwide, the administration said.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the dispute during its upcoming term that begins in October.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)