NYS Will Sue EPA If It Accepts PCB Dredging Project As Complete

Dec 20, 2017

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been unveiling proposals from his State of the State address set for January 3. His second proposal is about protecting the Hudson River. He and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman vow to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency if it deems PCB dredging to be complete.

Calling the proposal the first part of a comprehensive environmental program, Governor Cuomo says New York will immediately take action against the EPA if the agency accepts the Upper Hudson River dredging of PCBs as complete; in other words, if EPA issues a certificate of completion. Basil Seggos is state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner.

“It’s really important that we get this right. This is a once-in-a-many generation opportunity to correct the wrongs on one of the nation’s most important rivers,” Seggos says. “And, for the sake of political expediency, we can’t just rush this. We can’t rush the conclusion, and I think that’s what has beset this project for the last two or three years, this rush to the finish. And what we need to do is rely on the science to guide us, and that guides us towards a different conclusion from where we are right now.”

General Electric removed 2.65 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment from a 40-mile stretch of the upper Hudson through 2015. The EPA earlier this year released its second review of the cleanup of PCBs from the upper Hudson River and there was a public comment period. The review concludes that the $1.7 billion, six-year cleanup of the Superfund site is working, and will accomplish its long-term goal of protecting human health and the environment when complete. Ned Sullivan is president of Scenic Hudson, one of several environmental groups and lawmakers calling for more dredging.

“I was not aware that the governor and the attorney general were going to issue this public statement at this time. And I believe that there is still an opportunity for a win-win here," says Sullivan. "And it’s my hope that [EPA] Regional Administrator Lopez will adhere to his own exhortation of June of 2015 when he joined with other state legislators, New York state legislators, in calling on Governor Cuomo to do all in his power to direct GE to perform additional dredging.”

He refers to Pete Lopez who recently was named EPA Region 2 administrator. EPA Spokeswoman Larisa Romanowski says Lopez is giving his full attention to both the five-year review report and GE’s request for certification of completion of the remedial action, and will take the time he needs to ensure that he has the information necessary to make these important decisions. She says EPA does not anticipate making a final determination by January 3 on GE’s request for certification of completion. GE Spokesman Marc Behan says dredging has been a success.

“There’s been a 70 percent decline in PCB levels in water, and declines at every single station where environmental data are collected, and EPA expects those declines to continue going forward, and it said the project will protect public health and the environment and that no additional dredging was recommended," Behan says. "EPA called the dredging project a historic achievement, and I think that’s exactly right.”

Former EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck worked on the PCB dredging issue.

“Look, personally, I think the more PCBs that are removed from the river, the better,” says Enck. “I think this is a tall mountain to climb given that GE did comply with what EPA directed them to do. But I think it’s useful to push for more dredging.”

Again, DEC Commissioner Seggos.

“So last summer we spent about $2 million doing sediment testing in the river. What we found is that there are significant sections of the former dredging project that still have very high levels of PCBs," Seggos says. "And I presented that to the governor, and the governor felt strongly that the job here is not done and that in no way, shape or form should there be a certificate of completion on the project until EPA looks at the science and really weighs it against the progress that’s been made. And I think that, at this point, it’s abundantly clear that more work needs to be done.”

The EPA spokeswoman says the agency intends to issue the review report before making a final determination on GE’s request for a certification of completion. Cuomo says New York is prepared to withdraw from the 2002 Record of Decision which guided the cleanup and was signed under a previous administration. He alleges that the 2002 decision relied on flawed modeling rather than actual sampling data.