Will Sound Science -- or Corporate Interests -- Rule the Day on Hudson PCBs Cleanup? Key Decision Expected Soon from EPA.

We’re expecting a major decision from EPA on the cleanup of toxic PCBs in the Hudson River in early December.  The agency is due to set cleanup standards for the project’s second and final phase.  But the outcome is very much in doubt.  General Electric is trying to turn the screws on EPA, seeking cleanup standards that would protect the company’s bottom line, at the expense of the river and those who depend upon it. 

From the 1940’s to 1970’s, GE dumped over a million pounds of PCBs into the river.  That toxic pollution has continued to poison the river’s fish and wildlife – and anyone who eats them – to this day.  Meanwhile, GE has grown to be the world’s second-largest company, throughout decades of delay and posturing on a cleanup. 

EPA’s decision on Phase 2 cleanup standards will start a clock ticking for GE.  Under a 2006 settlement, once the agency announces the standards, GE will finally have to decide whether to commit to cleaning up its toxic mess and restoring the river to health.    

But here’s the catch.  If EPA’s determination is not to GE’s liking, the company can walk away from the settlement.  And GE hasn’t been shy about telling EPA what sorts of cleanup standards it wants to see.

Over the last week, we’ve been reviewing documents exchanged recently between EPA and GE – including many that GE sought to keep confidential, but which we obtained pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.  They show GE has offered to conduct Phase 2 on terms that would allow it to knowingly leave behind huge amounts of toxic waste that could, and should, be safely removed.   

If that’s not troubling enough, the documents also show that EPA – while not fully buying-in to GE’s approach – may be willing to adopt standards that undermine its own 2002 decision to remove virtually all PCBs from the most contaminated portions of the river.  The most critical portion of EPA’s latest proposal literally has “blanks” left to be filled-in, as the agency considers how to proceed. 

In October, NRDC President Frances Beinecke and the heads of other leading New York environmental groups, joined by more than 10,000 people around the country, called on EPA to reject a request by GE to delay its day of reckoning.  So far, on that score, it seems that EPA is not backing down. 

Now, with EPA’s biggest decisions pending, NRDC and our coalition have written again to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to emphasize that holding GE accountable means ensuring it conducts a full cleanup, based on sound science, that maximizes the amount of PCBs safely and permanently removed from the river. 

As we enter the home stretch, EPA must ensure that the public’s interest in a clean, healthy Hudson River – not GE’s corporate interest in its own bottom line – rule the day.