Environmental Law Clinic Representing Voices of the Wetlands in California Supreme Court Hearing of Moss Landing Power Plant Case

STANFORD, Calif., May 24, 2011—Today the faculty and students of the Environmental Law Clinic of the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School are representing their client, Voices of the Wetlands, in the California Supreme Court in the case, Voices of the Wetlands v. California State Water Resources Control Board; California Regional Water Quality Control Board – Central Coast Region; Duke Energy Moss Landing LLC; and Duke Energy North America, LLC. (Case No. S160211).

At stake is the health of the Elkhorn Slough, one of California’s last remaining coastal estuaries–an “ecological gem” and state-recognized ecological preserve that provides habitat for hundreds of resident and migratory bird species and supports a great diversity of rare plants and animals.

Along the shores of the marsh are two heron rookeries, a small breeding population of snowy plovers, nesting pairs of golden eagles, white-tailed kites and many other species of raptors. Altogether, 400 species of invertebrates, 260 species of birds, and 80 species of fish have been identified in the Slough, including commercially important dungeness crab and endangered tidewater goby.

Elkhorn Slough is also home to significant numbers of marine mammals, including harbor seals, southern sea otters and sea lions. It also serves as an important nursery and source of nutrients for Monterey Bay and functions as a filter for sediment and pollution runoff from surrounding upland uses. These functions are especially significant because the Slough opens into one of the deepest and most productive oceanic resources along the California coast, the Monterey Submarine Canyon.

The Moss Landing Power Plant at issue in this case sits at the mouth of Elkhorn Slough, from which it withdraws up to 1.224 billion of gallons of cooling water each day. Twenty-eight percent of the Slough’s total water volume circulates through the plant on a continuing basis. All living organisms entrained in the facility’s cooling system—billions of fish and invertebrate larvae and other plankton that form the base of the food web—are killed before the heated water is ultimately discharged into Monterey Bay. This “once-through cooling” system diminishes the biological productivity of the Slough by up to 40 percent. Regulators have deemed the plant’s ecological impacts to be “significant.”

To avoid such adverse impacts, many power plants throughout the nation employ alternative cooling technologies that drastically reduce or eliminate the need for cooling water. Consistent with this industry practice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that once-through cooling technology is not the “best technology available to minimize adverse environmental impact” as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

The Environmental Clinic’s client, Voices of the Wetlands, claims that in 2000, the Moss Landing plant sought permission to construct two new gas turbine generating units designed with the same once-through cooling technology it had employed for decades and California approved the permits without meaningful consideration of alternative cooling technologies. Today’s hearing in the California Supreme Court is the latest phase in the Environmental Clinic client’s long effort to ensure that the cooling technology employed at the Moss Landing Power Plant is the “best technology available to minimize adverse environmental impact” as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

About the Environmental Law Clinic

The Environmental Law Clinic provides an opportunity each semester for 10 to 15 students to work in the environmental advocacy arena on behalf of a wide variety of nonprofit organizations, from national groups like the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Ocean Conservancy to such regional and local grassroots groups as the Center for Biological Diversity, San Francisco Baykeeper, and Voices of the Wetlands.

Under clinic director Deborah Sivas, Luke W. Cole Professor of Environmental Law, students engage in natural resource litigation, administrative practice, and policy work involving federal public lands, marine and coastal resources, biodiversity, water quality, and global climate change.