This paper develops a comparative framework for policy proposals involving fish protection and Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Section 316(b) addresses the impingement and entrainment of fish by cooling-water intake structures used principally by steam electric power plants. The framework is motivated by examining the role of adverse environmental impacts (AEIs) in the context of Section 316(b) decision making. AEI is mentioned in Section 316(b), but not defined. While various AEI options have been proposed over the years, none has been formalized through environmental regulations nor universally accepted. Using a multiple values approach from decision analysis, AEIs are characterized as measurement criteria for ecological impacts. Criteria for evaluating AEI options are identified, including modeling and assessment issues, the characterization of ecological value, regulatory implementation, and the treatment of uncertainty. Motivated by the difficulties in defining AEI once and for all, a framework is introduced to compare options for 316(b) decision making. Three simplified policy options are considered, each with a different implicit or explicit AEI approach: (1) a technology-driven rule based on a strict reading of the 316(b) regulatory text, and for which any impingement and entrainment count as AEI, (2) a complementary, open-ended risk-assessment process for estimating population effects with AEI characterized on a site-specific basis, and (3) an intermediate position based on proxy measures such as specially constructed definitions of littoral zone, sensitive habitat, or water body type. The first two proposals correspond roughly to responses provided, respectively, by the Riverkeeper environmental organization and the Utility Water Act Group to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s proposed 316(b) new facilities rule of August 2000; the third example is a simplified form of the EPA’s proposed August 2000 new facilities rule itself. The simplified policy positions are compared using the three dimensions of the comparative policy framework: (1) the role of CWA philosophy or vision, such as the use of technology-forcing rules, (2) regulatory policy implementation, and (3) the role for scientific information and the knowledge base. Strengths and weaknesses of all three 316(b) policy approaches are identified. The U.S. EPA’s final new facilities rule of November 2001 is briefly characterized using the comparative policy framework and used to further illustrate the approach.