Fish kills in Delaware River lead to legal action in N.J., Del.

TRENTON – Environmental groups are taking state environmental officials in New Jersey and Delaware to court over fish kills in the Delaware River and estuary.

Groups such as the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Delaware Audubon Society, N.J. Sierra Club, N.J. Environmental Federation and others want the courts to order the states’ environmental officials to take action on permit renewals for the Salem nuclear power plant in New Jersey and for the Delaware City Refinery.

The groups claim that inaction on the permits has allowed the facilities to operate with outdated technology and has contributed to the deaths of more than 3 billion fish a year regarding the Salem plant and more than 45 million a year by the refinery.

They alleged that means that more than 36 billion fish have been killed since 2001 when – in New Jersey – Salem operator PSE&G was permitted to spend money on mitigation projects as opposed to building cooling towers and making other upgrades.

DEP in New Jersey has not taken action on PSE&G’s permit – submitted for renewal in 2006 – because the Environmental Protection Agency is developing regulations to implement the Clean Water Act, and final regulations are due shortly, DEP spokesman Larry Hajna explained.

Maya van Rossum, of the Riverkeeper Network, predicted earlier Tuesday that is what DEP would say, but that EPA action has been delayed for years.

“This is not an excuse for not having done anything for a decade,” she said.

But Hajna, who said DEP would have no comment on the litigation, said that while he understands what she is saying regarding the length of time, it has been taken out of the state’s hands while it awaits EPA action.

Van Rossum said the Clean Water Act requires the facilities to minimize their impact on wildlife.  She said that since the operators won’t do it, they will take the states’ environmental agencies to court to force action.

“We want them to stop sitting on their hands and turning a blind eye to the kills,’’ van Rossum said. “No excuse justifies this.”

A spokesman for PSE&G’s nuclear division issued a statement in response to the groups’ legal action.

“PSEG and its Mercer and Salem plants continue to operate and meet all regulatory requirements under their current permits. This includes state-of –the-art screening with fish returns to protect the environment and promote aquatic life.”