Enviros Say EPA Will Leave Hudson Polluted in Rush to Declare Partial PCB Cleanup a Total Success

Thursday, February 11, 2016 -- Scenic Hudson
Contact: 

Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director, Clearwater, 845-807-1270, or mannjo@clearwater.org
Cliff Weathers, Communications Director, Riverkeeper, 914-478-4501, Ext. 239, or cweathers@riverkeeper.org
Jay Burgess, Director of Communications, Scenic Hudson, 845-473-4440, Ext. 222, or jburgess@scenichudson.org
Roger Downs, Conservation Director, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, 518-426-9144, roger.downs@albany.twcbc.com

Agency sees victory in cleanup plan other federal experts say will fail

Failure with nation’s largest Superfund site could hamper pollution cleanups nationwide

CAPITAL REGION/HUDSON VALLEY—The leading environmental groups closely monitoring the Hudson River PCB dredging project today rallied behind an op-ed two leaders for the organizations’ cause wrote to demonstrate that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has lost sight of goals it set for a cleanup of PCB toxins in the Hudson River. The groups state that the EPA is defining success for the precedent-setting cleanup based on achieving a flawed cleanup plan rather than on whether the project achieves public health and environmental objectives. Allowing the country’s largest Superfund site—covering 200 miles of an American Heritage River—to dramatically fall short would impact the health and economic opportunity of millions of New Yorkers, undermine legally required natural resource restoration efforts along the Hudson, and create a precedent that would hamper efforts across the country to repair other natural resources fouled by health-threatening pollution. While General Electric (GE) has for decades evaded its full responsibility for cleaning up devastating pollution it caused, the EPA has made critical blunders in managing remediation of the Hudson River.

An op-ed by Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan and Sierra Club National Board President Aaron Mair responds directly to an op-ed by Judith Enck, a regional administrator for the EPA.

Plan destined to fall short

When the EPA discovered very early in the cleanup that there was dramatically more PCBs in the upper Hudson River than previously thought and that the pollution was distributed well beyond “hot spots” targeted for the cleanup, the agency did nothing to alter its plan. No more science was conducted to sharpen understanding of the new-found pollution or how to best deal with it. Also along the way the EPA discovered GE scientists have under-reported PCB levels in fish, an important measure of the cleanup’s effectiveness, but the agency has failed to hold GE accountable for this serious breach of protocol.

Expert agencies involved in natural resource restoration disagree with the EPA

As trustees for the cleanup initiative, both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have stated to the EPA that the cleanup will leave unsafe amounts of PCBs behind. This pollution will keep the Hudson’s fish unsafe to eat for generations longer and will block community efforts to restore cargo shipping on the upper Hudson and Champlain Canal, a potential engine of economic development in that region. The agencies said the project plan underestimates the pollution level and will result in an incomplete effort. They have communicated to the EPA that GE’s pollution has damaged full use of the river for decades, that it should not allow GE to dismantle cleanup infrastructure and that more dredging is needed. NOAA and USFWS have stated that the EPA’s failure to meet the cleanup goals also will obstruct their ability to identify and implement long-term restoration projects after completion of the EPA-mandated cleanup of the Hudson, pursuant to federal law.

Undercutting confidence in pending review of cleanup’s effectiveness

While the environmental groups were pleased to have recently gotten the EPA to agree to expedite a five-year technical review, to be commenced this year and which is intended to determine if the dredging project is meeting its goals, the EPA’s public declarations of success cloud the review process. The groups say Administrator Enck’s recent op-ed publicly claims victory before the review has even begun. The article also ignores the exclusive responsibility the EPA has for ensuring the cleanup meets its goals and for determining if more dredging is required. Assigning these responsibilities to New York State and the federal trustees is wrong legally and ethically.

Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan expanded on his op-ed to state, “The Hudson is a national treasure that has been compromised by GE’s contamination for generations. The flawed EPA-mandated cleanup has been discredited. It’s time the EPA acknowledges the project’s shortcomings and rapidly implements a five-year review with robust public input. This can lay the groundwork for the comprehensive cleanup that will restore this damaged resource and salvage the agency’s and Superfund program’s credibility.”

“For too long, the EPA has allowed GE to continue with an inadequate remedy in protecting our river and our communities from PCBs. We can’t afford to simply declare victory and go home. It would take only few more seasons of dredging by GE to restore our river to health. The Obama administration owes it to New York: Require GE to finish the job,” said Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay.

Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Environmental Director Manna Jo Greene said, “EPA claims that GE ‘decided to stop fighting and take responsibility.’ That is simply not true. With dozens of editorials and more than 70 municipal resolutions calling for a mutually-beneficial voluntary settlement agreement to ensure a more robust cleanup of Hudson River PCBs, GE failed to come to the table. By not agreeing to participate in a more comprehensive cleanup they are delaying the recovery of the river and causing further health and environmental impacts, which can and should be prevented by a more proactive approach.”

“EPA’s declaration of victory for a partial cleanup ignores that thousands of New Yorkers, many of whom come from immigrant and low-income communities, still supplement their diets with PCB-contaminated fish from the Hudson River,” said Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Director Roger Downs. “This callous indifference to the health of environmental justice communities—when a complete cleanup of the river is possible—puts the full responsibility of this persistent crisis at EPA’s feet.”

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