General Electric and federal natural resources officials are locked in a new dispute about whether PCB contamination in the upper Hudson River has damaged wildlife.
GE is resisting a push from federal natural resource trustees to expand its dredging project to address PCB damage to fish, birds and water — to the point of implying the matter could end up in court.
GE is in the midst of a $1 billion, decade-long dredging project. It said it is living up to its cleanup agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and may not have any further liability once the current dredging is finished.
“The question of whether GE has any liability for natural resource damages in the Hudson River will be answered by a court, not by the agencies that serve as natural resource trustees,” GE spokesman Mark Behan said Wednesday.
No court action is pending, and Behan said the company will remain open to discussions with federal and state officials, but it doesn’t believe there’s been any proven damage to wildlife.
“No such liability has been determined, and no such liability has been quantified,” Behan said. “The unsolicited opinions the trustees set forth in their Jan. 30 letter have no legal weight.”
Behan was reacting to a letter and Feb. 3 news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which themselves were responses to an earlier GE report.
“To be clear, we are interested in additional dredging as a way of accelerating recovery of the river and reducing GE’s future [natural resource damage] liability,” wrote Thomas Brosnan of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Kathryn Jahn, Hudson River case manager for the Department of the Interior.
Where such dredging would be recommended is unknown, but one possibility would be navigational dredging of the Champlain Canal between Whitehall and Fort Edward, which has not been dredged in decades because of concerns about stirring up PCBs.
Brosnan and Jahn are trustees of the Hudson River Natural Resource, assigned to identify any damage done to wildlife and other natural resources by the PCBs. Their work has been under way for a number of years already, and doesn’t appear to be near any conclusion.
Brosnan and Jahn were reacting to a December report from GE, prepared after state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, as manager of pension funds that own large amounts of GE stock, asked for an assessment of the company’s future PCB-related liability.
GE’s 31-page report said the value of any additional dredging can’t be known until the trustees select remediation projects — which may not happen for years — but that they also face “a significant burden in demonstrating the presence of PCBs in the upper Hudson River has caused injury.”
“Natural resources along the upper Hudson River are thriving, healthy and robust,” the report asserted.
The federal trustees, however, call that statement “misleading.”
“The extensive PCB contamination of the Hudson River by General Electric has clearly injured natural resources and the services those resources provide to the people of New York state,” said Robert Haddad, chief of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration and a federal trustee.
Fish, waterfowl, and surface and groundwater as far down river as Stillwater have shown high levels of PCBs, the trustees said.