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Editorial: State right to sue over PCB cleanup ruling

Editorial: State right to sue over PCB cleanup ruling

Despite EPA's claims, evidence is clear that dredging project is incomplete
Editorial: State right to sue over PCB cleanup ruling
A PCB dredging operation on the Hudson River in Stillwater on Aug. 14, 2014.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

EPA to General Electric: Even though there are still hundreds of thousands of pounds of PCBs left in the Hudson River that you dumped there, we nonetheless agree that you did the best you could cleaning it up, so we’re going to sign off on the work you did. If we see any problems down the road, we’ll call you back and make you do more cleanup.

GE to the EPA: Thank you very much. We will do that.

Are you buying this? 

We’re not. And neither is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Attorney General Letitia James, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, environmental groups around the state, and anyone else with an ounce of common sense. And neither should you.

In a rather anticlimactic press conference Thursday morning, EPA Regional Director Pete Lopez did his best to put lipstick on this pig of an environmental cleanup, insisting that the jury is still out on whether the six-year dredging project by GE to remove the PCBs it dumped in the river has been effective in restoring the environment.

Citing inadequate evidence due to the short time frame used to measure contamination levels in fish, he said GE had fulfilled its legal and technical obligations to clean up the mess it made.

The decision comes despite strong evidence to the contrary, including a 294-page report issued last year by the DEC finding that the river hasn’t been cleaned up sufficiently and that PCBs remain a threat to fish and the people who consume them.

Lopez tried to reassure critics of the EPA’s decision that this wasn’t the end of the road for the project.

He said if it turns out sometime in the future that the PCB problem hasn’t taken care of itself and is still causing harm to the environment, the agency will force the company to resume dredging and rebuild the infrastructure needed to support a new cleanup operation if necessary.

“The issuance of the certificate of completion does not let GE off the hook, as many people feared,” he said. “Repeat. GE is not off the hook.”

Well, actually, it is. Now, and probably forever, unless something changes.

Either way, the state is taking no chances. Cuomo and James wasted little time condemning the EPA’s conclusions Thursday, calling PCB levels “unacceptably high in the riverbed and in fish” and declaring that New York state was planning to sue the EPA over the decision in order to force GE to complete the cleanup.

Condemnation of the EPA decision from other public officials in the state was widespread and bipartisan.

The evidence against this decision is clear, and the state’s response to it is right and necessary.

If the federal government won’t do its job to protect New York’s environment, then it will be up to the courts to do so.

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