Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General

New York to EPA: Don’t Approve GE’s Cleanup of Hudson

September 20, 2016

As published by The Wall Street Journal on September 16, 2016.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to postpone the formal completion of General Electric Co. ’s $1.6 billion cleanup of the upper Hudson River, saying the agency has yet to prove whether dredging the river is working.

In a letter sent Friday to Judith Enck, regional administrator of the EPA, attorneys from Mr. Schneiderman’s office said the agency should delay awarding a “certificate of completion” to GE for the dredging work. Instead, they argued, the EPA should conduct new studies of fish in the Hudson to determine how much of GE’s pollution remains in the river and how long it will be before humans can safely eat fish from the river again.

Mr. Schneiderman’s letter is the second unanticipated missive in the past month from New York’s state government to the EPA suggesting that GE should do more to clean up the carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that it dumped into the river for decades, ending in the late 1970s. In August, Basil Seggos, head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, wrote to the EPA that GE’s “work is not done” removing PCBs from the riverbed.

Both GE and the EPA say the company has completed one of the most complex environmental cleanups in U.S. history, encompassing six seasons of dredging over seven years, after years of contentious negotiations between the company and the government.

In a statement, a GE spokesman said New York officials had approved and overseen “every major decision about the dredging project,” and said that tests for PCBs in the upper Hudson River have shown “significant declines” since dredging ended last October.

“We’re confident that the assessment will show the dredging project achieved the agency’s goals of protecting public health and the environment,” the statement read. “When we have completed our decommissioning obligations later this year, we expect the project to be declared complete.”

The attorney general’s letter comes as the EPA is preparing to issue the certificate of completion. That step is important, said Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson, a group that advocates greater cleanup of the river, because issuing the certificate would mean that the EPA relinquishes its ability to require GE to conduct more cleanup work in the river.

Mr. Sullivan said he met in July with Bill Mulrow, Mr. Cuomo’s secretary, and Mr. Seggos to press the case for state action before the certificate of completion is granted.

“They’re leaving much more extensive contamination than was expected,” Mr. Sullivan said.

An EPA spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The agency has called the project a success, though it says it will be decades before PCB levels decline in the Hudson River’s fish.

The EPA contests a set of findings issued last year by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that found that PCBs would linger for decades longer than previously suspected in the Hudson and its fish. The EPA expects to complete a second five-year review of the dredging project early next year.