Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper slam decision that makes it much harder to compel GE to continue cleanup
Groups thank Gov. Cuomo for his leadership and pledge support for his legal challenge of Certificate of Completion
HUDSON VALLEY—Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper strongly condemn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—for issuing General Electric a Certificate of Completion for the Hudson River PCB cleanup while simultaneously admitting that the Superfund project has not achieved its mandated goal to be “protective of human health and the environment.”
The EPA has concluded its Five Year Review (FYR) of the cleanup with a determination of “protectiveness deferred.” This means that the agency lacks sufficient data to declare that all human and ecological risks are under control, and that additional action must be taken for it to ascertain whether “unacceptable risks” are occurring from the continued presence of PCB toxins in the river. In fact, the data already show that the public will be exposed to higher health risks than EPA anticipated, because short term targets will not be met.
The FYR deletes a forecast contained in the review’s draft version that the river “will be protective” in 55 years. If included, this prediction would have provided the EPA with an opportunity to walk away from the project—meaning the large amounts of PCBs remaining in the river’s sediment would continue to impact the public health and prosperity of communities and the river’s wildlife for the foreseeable future. However, by issuing the Certificate of Completion, the EPA limits its authority to require GE to perform additional cleanup necessary to make a polluted stretch of the river spanning 200 miles safe for humans and wildlife.
Peer-reviewed, scientific analyses conducted by two agencies tasked with the river's long-term restoration—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)—indicate that unremediated “hotspots” in the upper Hudson continue to pose a health risk to humans and wildlife, and that areas dredged during the EPA’s six-year Superfund cleanup have been recontaminated. Scientists from both NOAA and the DEC have concluded that without more dredging, the Hudson will take decades longer to recover from the PCBs remaining in the river.
While both groups appreciate that the EPA has admitted the upper Hudson cleanup has not been successful, the agency's decision to issue GE a Certificate of Completion despite this fact is completely inconsistent with a “protectiveness deferred” determination in the Five Year Review. Issuing this certificate triggers a “covenant not to sue,” which will severely limit the EPA’s ability to compel GE to conduct additional cleanup action. Therefore, even if the EPA finds after evaluating several additional years of data that the goals of the cleanup will not be met—and that remaining PCBs continue to harm communities and wildlife—it will be more difficult for the EPA to hold GE accountable. In fact, issuing the Certificate of Completion without a fully supported finding that the remedy and the cleanup goals have been met is inconsistent with Superfund law.
Finally, while the EPA said it is studying whether to order GE to start the investigation into cleaning up the lower 150 miles of the Hudson River, both Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper said prompt action is needed to get this long-delayed work moving.
Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said: “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. EPA’s actions today will, if unchallenged, perpetuate the compromised condition of the river for at least another half-century. While EPA has acknowledged that the cleanup has failed to meet the very goals it set, its issuance of a Certificate of Completion flies in the face of science, the law and its pledge to find a consensus position with New York State and stakeholders. EPA has ignored the urgent pleas of hundreds of officials—at the federal, state, county and local levels—as well as key leaders of business and sporting groups and thousands of citizens to continue a cleanup that data clearly show has failed.”
Mr. Sullivan continued: “We commend Governor Cuomo and the DEC for their leadership and will support legal actions they promise to challenge EPA’s issuance of the Certificate of Completion. We thank all the elected officials, business leaders and citizens who have expressed their aspirations for a clean healthy Hudson River, and we pledge to continue the fight to achieve their goals.”
Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said: “EPA’s decision to issue GE a Certificate of Completion for their underachieving Upper Hudson PCB cleanup constitutes a failure of will and an abdication of responsibility. EPA acknowledged that an overwhelming amount of testing data shows that GE’s recent cleanup activities will not achieve promised goals, yet EPA failed to take the appropriate next step: order GE go get back into the Hudson and deliver the results they committed to over a decade ago. Riverkeeper applauds Governor Cuomo and Attorney General James’ decision to sue EPA for this inexplicable failure of will. We will enthusiastically support the state’s litigation. Finally, EPA’s announcement today promises to study whether to order GE to start a remedial investigation for the lower 150 miles of the Hudson. This investigation is long overdue. It should begin promptly and proceed aggressively.”
An independent report commissioned by Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper concluded that the most recent fish and sediment data could not support a conclusion that the remedy is or will be protective. For the full report and background on the PCB cleanup: www.scenichudson.org/toxicpcbs; www.riverkeeper.org/campaigns/stop-polluters/pcbs/
Scenic Hudson Director of Environmental Advocacy Hayley Carlock on continued impacts of PCB pollution: “By punting on the cleanup, the EPA has set back by generations the time it will take to make the Hudson the economic and environmental asset that New Yorkers deserve. This means communities along the river and anglers and their families who rely on its fish for sustenance will be exposed to unacceptably high levels of cancer-causing PCBs for decades longer. In addition, these toxins will continue delaying long-awaited economic development opportunities along the waterfront and resumption of the commercial fishing industry. It’s unconscionable that we have to wait so long for a safe, healthy and prosperous river.”