updated 7/27/2004 10:58:22 AM ET 2004-07-27T14:58:22

Six Northeast states have challenged new federal rules governing how power plants use public water supplies, claiming the regulations make it easier for plants to avoid the cost of new technologies that would protect the environment.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in federal appeals court, the states claim the new federal rules give too much weight to the cost of technology and not enough to protecting the environment. According to the lawsuit, the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s rules, which have not yet taken effect, fail to protect the states’ water and fisheries.

Rhode Island is the lead plaintiff, joined by Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

“Once again, EPA has put the demands of power plant operators ahead of what is best for our environment,” New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said.

Cynthia Bergman, a spokeswoman for the EPA, said the rules mark the first time the agency has established national guidelines under the federal Clean Water Act to protect fish, shellfish and other aquatic animals from harm.

“The benefits are enormous, (and) we will vigorously defend this rule,” she said in a statement.

The Clean Water Act requires power plants to get permits that regulate the amount of water they take in from public sources, often for their cooling towers, as well as the amount they discharge. The law also requires plants to use technology minimizing environmental harm.

Critics of the plants say they take in too much water and that the warm water they discharge harms aquatic life unable to adjust to drastic temperature changes.

Under the Clean Water Act, plants may forgo upgrades if the costs are “wholly disproportionate” to the benefits. The states say the new rules give more weight to the technology costs.

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