Scenic Hudson says General Electric owes billions

Three years ago this week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would not force General Electric to continue dredging toxic PCBs from the Hudson River and certified that the company had “properly executed” the steps to restoration entrusted to him.

Amid widespread criticism from environmental groups and government leaders, then-EPA regional administrator Pete Lopez claimed that certification was “not letting GE off the hook,” promising studies in decades to come will fully assess whether these measures were effective in remedying the harm done to the company. cause.

Scenic Hudson is trying to reopen that conversation by pricing GE with a whopping – albeit theoretical – bill of at least $22.1 billion.

2021: NY considering ‘all legal options’ after EPA lawsuit dismissed

2019: EPA won’t require GE to continue cleaning up Hudson River yet

Chronology: How GE’s Hudson River PCB Cleanup Began

The Environmental Defense Agency claimed on Tuesday that “damages for damage to natural resources held in trust for the public” can be claimed in a natural resource damage assessment, a process established under the law of 42 years on global environmental response, compensation and liability. .

According to the EPA’s website, the process “identifies additional actions, beyond the response needed, to address damage to natural resources.”

No such formal claim – which must be made by the administrators of the natural resource damage assessment – has been made.

But, Scenic Hudson says its report released this week, in which three analyst firms were commissioned to study trustees’ reports and other data to arrive at an estimate, should be used as “a credible framework to assess damages that GE may owe”.

A tank barge passes under the Mid-Hudson Bridge in the town of Poughkeepsie on May 6, 2019.

The study concluded that damage to wildlife, drinking water and recreational fishing opportunities in the Hudson caused $11.4 billion in damages. He also concluded that the additional dredging he said should be required of GE would cost an additional $10.7 billion. And, any additional damage before or during this dredging process could be added to the bill.

“The GE contamination has caused 70 years of damage, which is expected to last another 50 years or more into the future,” Dagmar Schmidt Etkin, one of the authors of the Environmental Research Consulting report, said in a Scenic Hudson statement. . “Hudson River administrators have documented PCB pollution of drinking water, fishery closures and fish consumption restrictions, compromised river navigation in marinas and canals, and health threats to waterfowl and mammals.”

A barge carrying a crane with a clamshell bucket used for dredging is seen October 3, 2013 on the east side of the Hudson River as work progresses on the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.  The works include the dredging of the platforms and the driving of the piles.

GE issued a general response to the study, in which it noted that the EPA’s conclusion that the company was satisfied that its designated remediation measures had been upheld in court amid legal challenges launched by the New York State.

“The government’s natural resource assessment is not yet complete. We are proud of our contributions and will continue to work closely with local, state and federal agencies.

What happened during the cleaning?

GE spent $1.7 billion to dredge 310,000 pounds of PCBs from the bottom of the Hudson about 40 miles north of Albany, under a 2006 consent decree. The EPA says that represents 72% of PCBs in the 40 mile stretch of the river which was considered the most polluted.

From 1947 to 1977, the company dumped approximately 1.3 million pounds of the chemical it had used to keep machinery from overheating into the river.

According to the EPA, PCBs are considered probable human carcinogens. They are linked to other adverse health effects such as low birth weight, thyroid disease and immune system disorders. The greatest human exposure along the Hudson is through the consumption of contaminated fish.

A clamshell dredge lifts sediment from the Hudson River at Fort Edward in 2011.

In 2017, EPA officials announced that neither “data, science, or law” would allow the agency to compel GE to do more dredging.

They said the project, which ran from 2009 to 2015, had reduced levels of PCBs in fish, although it would take another 15 to 30 years to bring them down to a level they can be eaten safely. security.

The EPA touts the cleanup as one of its “Superfund success stories,” though in issuing the certificate to GE in 2019, it noted it would not determine the effectiveness of the restoration. Hudson “until more years of Hudson River fish tissue data are collected.”

Environmental groups have largely rejected the EPA’s 2019 findings.

What the report says

The Scenic Hudson report notes that NRDA administrators for the Hudson River, which include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, DEC, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “have documented that injuries have occurred “in numerous reports published since 2002” but did not provide their plans for injury quantification and damage assessment, whereby dollar damages will be estimated and negotiated with the liable party.

GE was engaged in dredging the upper Hudson River between 2009 and 2015.

The analytics companies that contributed to the report, Environmental Research Consulting, RPS Group and Greene Economic, reviewed these reports and other studies when assessing perceived injuries.

Trustees assessed the depth of damage ranging from:

  • levels of PCBs found in specific frogs, fish, birds and other wildlife, sometimes due to contact with contaminated sediments;
  • the cost of water filtration for cities that use the river as a source of drinking water;
  • fisheries closures resulting from reduced recreational and commercial fishing;
  • the fact that many low-income residents continue to consume fish from the river out of necessity despite warnings.

“Many low-income and immigrant populations in the Hudson Valley depend on the river to feed their families,” Forever Adirondacks Campaign Director Aaron Mair said in a statement. “The longer we delay cleaning up PCBs, the more we hurt our low-income black, indigenous and people of color communities.”

Each damaged area includes formulas and explanations of how the estimates are reached. Interest payments are included to account for inflation and problems that get worse over time. While most are complicated and, at times, moot, other takeaways from the report are more easily identifiable:

“Water sampling showed that exceedances of state and federal water quality standards occurred in all parts of the river for every year sampled from 1975 to 2014.”

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