For decades, General Electric plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, both located in Washington County, north of Albany, dumped toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River. A costly and long-sought cleanup began in 2009. This morning, EPA Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez announced that General Electric had met the cleanup requirements outlined in a 2006 agreement, though he said that doesn’t mean the company couldn’t be called upon to fund further cleanup in the future.
In a separate decision, the EPA declined to draw a conclusion as to whether the cleanup is or will be “protective of human health and the environment,” citing the need for more data on PCB levels in fish tissue. It said that could take up to eight more years.
“EPA greatly respects and honors the engagement of the many concerned individuals and organizations who are so passionate about restoring the iconic Hudson River and we look forward to continuing these important partnerships with the River’s many stakeholders,” Lopez stated in a release. “Many of us share a personal connection with this living resource, and value its connection to commerce, recreation, tourism, the arts and more. This work is critically important not only for today, but for future generations. We take this effort seriously. No person or organization will be let off the hook for the contamination of this historic and valuable waterway (his emphasis).”
Though the dredging took place entirely in the Upper Hudson, between Troy and Fort Edward, the cause of cleaning up the river united environmentalists and lawmakers across the valley. So did today’s announcement.
Riverkeeper joined with Scenic Hudson to condemn the decision, reasoning that it must be premature to declare GE’s work complete because the EPA admits it’s too soon to say whether the action was sufficient to protect human health and the ecological dangers.
“For more than half a century, General Electric’s cancer- causing contamination has deprived millions who live along or visit the Hudson River the opportunity to enjoy clean drinking water, fish they can safely eat, and riverfronts for recreation and business,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan. “EPA’s actions today will, if unchallenged, perpetuate the compromised condition of the river for at least another half-century.”
And challenged they will be. Shortly after the EPA’s announcement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James announced the state’s intention to sue the EPA, saying its “decision to issue the Certificate of Completion is contrary to the law and could make it much harder for EPA to require GE to implement more dredging or other remedial measures in the upper Hudson River, as needed to protect public health and the environment.”
The governor noted the state Department of Environmental Conservation released a study last year that concluded the cleanup was “incomplete.”
“Today, the EPA demonstrated that it will continue to side with polluters rather than protect the environment and health of New Yorkers,” said Congressman Antonio Delgado (D-Rhinebeck). “I am deeply frustrated at this issuance of a Certificate of Completion for General Electric, and that the EPA has not taken the available New York State Department of Environmental Conservation contamination data into consideration when making this decision. The Hudson River is a national treasure, a vital resource for nearby communities, and a driver of our local economy. I support the efforts of New York State to challenge this determination and will continue to fight to ensure that GE is held accountable for a complete clean up of the river.”
“The EPA has failed New York. Their refusal to hold GE accountable is completely unacceptable and a dereliction of duty,” said Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-Cold Spring). “Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for GE’s subpar cleanup job. GE must continue their work until the Hudson River is safe for humans, wildlife, and continued economic development along the river. Make no mistake, this fight isn’t over – I was happy to see the Governor and Attorney General have filed a law suit, and we will be exploring further recourse. Folks in the Hudson Valley have had to stand by while powerful interests abused our precious river for far too long. It’s time to clean up this river once and for all.”