Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Thursday threatened to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency if it declares the costly environmental cleanup of PCBs from the Hudson River has been successful.
“The data is clear: The job is not done and the EPA cannot declare that this remediation is complete,” Cuomo said in a statement. “If they do, New York will take any action necessary to hold them accountable for ensuring our waterways are protected and properly restored.”
The lawsuit threat was made as a Dec. 23 deadline approaches for the EPA to decide whether the $1.7 billion cleanup paid for by General Electric has been successful in removing enough PCBs from the river to allow fish from the river to be eaten.
The polychlorinated biphenyls were discharged into the river from GE capacitor plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward between 1946 and 1977, when the suspected carcinogen was banned. After decades of investigation, review and administrative proceedings, the EPA in 2002 ordered GE to remove “hot spots” of PCBs from a 40-mile stretch of the river between Hudson Falls and Troy. The dredging took place between 2009 and 2015.
GE applied in December 2016 for EPA certification that the project was complete, a move that gave the EPA 365 days to respond.
State officials contend that PCB levels in fish haven’t dropped as predicted, and last summer the state Department of Environmental Conservation conducted its own testing on 1,200 fish, after the EPA refused to pay for additional testing.
“Time and again we have cautioned the EPA that their cleanup was not protective of human health and the environment, and with Gov. Cuomo’s actions today, we hope they will get the message,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said Thursday in a statement.
EPA officials have said they always foresaw that it would take decades for the level of PCBs in the river’s fish to show improvement. An EPA study released last summer estimated it will be more than 50 years before it will be safe to regularly eat fish taken from the river.
“The dredging project was a demonstrable success in the first year since dredging was completed,” GE spokesman Mark Behan said. “All of the PCBs EPA targeted for removal have been removed, and PCB levels have declined at every station where environmental data was collected, as EPA predicted they would. … There is no dispute that GE has met all its commitments to the EPA and New York state.”