In many criminal court proceedings in New York, the victims of a crime are entitled to give a statement to the judge about how the perpetrator’s crimes have impacted their lives and to make a plea for the type of punishment the convicted individual should receive.
Later on, in deciding whether those criminals should be released from prison before the completion of their full terms of sentence, parole boards again consider the opinions of the victims as to whether the individual has sufficiently fulfilled his obligation to society.
The victims impact statements give the courts unique perspective on the severity of the crime and its toll on the humans it has affected.
Essentially, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Attorney General Letitia James delivered a victims impact statement on behalf of all New Yorkers on Thursday by filing a long-promised lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over General Electric Co.’s abbreviated cleanup of PCB pollution in the Hudson River.
The lawsuit accuses the EPA of prematurely allowing GE to end its cleanup of the river before the 1.3 million pounds of PCBs dumped by the company have been adequately and safely removed. The six-year dredging project was issued a certificate of completion in April based on the conclusion that GE had fulfilled its legal obligations to clean up the river and by the EPA’s claim that there hasn’t been enough time to collect adequate data to determine that the dredging didn’t do what it was intended to do.
That conclusion was drawn despite the data and conclusions contained in a 294-page report issued last year by our own state Department of Environmental Conservation that found that the river, in fact, hasn’t been cleaned sufficiently and that PCBs remain a threat to fish and people who consume them.
Not only has the discharge of PCBs into the river been an environmental disaster, but it has affected tourism, recreation and water quality in communities and businesses along the river from Hudson Falls to New York City.
Like victims impact statements in crimes, the lawsuit is designed to convince the court of the severe harm that was done by the dumping of the PCBs and of the lasting effects it is still having.
The lawsuit simply demands that General Electric complete its sentence, that it complete the cleanup project that it was obligated to undertake because of its actions.
All the victims of PCB contamination want is justice.
Let’s hope the judges who decide the fate of the state’s lawsuit give this victims impact statement the weight it deserves.