OAK CREEK — Community members from across the state gathered today at a public hearing held in the Oak Creek Community Center to tell the DNR not to allow the use of an environmentally destructive water-intake cooling system at the Elm Road Generating Station coal plant. If permitted, WE Energies’ system would pump billions of gallons of water daily through a pipe extending 1.5 miles into Lake Michigan and return it to the lake ten to fifteen degrees above the natural temperature.

“Once through cooling systems kill millions of fish, shellfish and fish eggs by sucking them into their pipes or trapping them against their screens,” said Katie Nekola, Energy Program Director and Staff Attorney at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “The increased water temperatures the system would discharge would encourage invasive species like zebra mussels to flourish, which out-compete native species for food and habitat.”

Despite a state court ruling requiring WE Energies to use the best available technology, the utility continued construction on the controversial water-intake system. They have asked the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for an exemption from the federal Clean Water Act in order to use the outdated technology. In a draft permit recently released by the DNR, the agency proposed allowing WE Energies to use the once through cooling system, prompting community members to voice concern at today’s hearing.

“WE Energies should be held to the same standard of law as other industries,” Nekola said. “Allowing the use of this system would endanger the ecological health of Lake Michigan and set a dangerous precedent.”

Clean Wisconsin vows to continue challenging the legality of once through cooling, should the DNR choose to issue a permit allowing WE Energies to use this destructive system.

“We have an obligation to use the safest technologies available to protect Lake Michigan for future generations to enjoy,” Nekola said. “When better technologies exist, why endanger the health of one of the world’s most majestic lakes?”

A second hearing will be held at 6:30 this evening at the same location. The DNR will make its final determination regarding whether to permit the use of the cooling system sometime after June 16th, the last day public comments will be accepted.