Hudson River PCB/GE Cleanup Review May Test Pruitt Power to De-Fang the EPA Superfund Cleanup Enforcement

The Trump Administrations’ EPA Administer Scott Pruitt has promised (threatened?) to “streamline and speed” Superfund cleanups by centralizing decision making in his office for projects that cost over $50 million dollars.  EPA insiders have interpreted this as a way to essentially defund the Superfund program by finding that certain mining and sediment cleanup programs currently conducted are completed—perhaps even before the science shows substantial remediation and cleanup has been accomplished.

The Hudson River cleanup, necessitated by General Electric’s unprecedented, decades long dumping of thousands of tons of PCB’s directly into the river is scheduled for a 5 year review which the agency must complete by June 1. General Electric (GE), the potentially responsible party at the site, completed a six­ year sediment cleanup of the river in 2015. It required the dredging of more than 2.6 million cubic yards of sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) over a 40 ­mile stretch of river, stemming from two electrical capacitor manufacturing plants that operated along the river at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward.

Industry is welcoming Pruitt’s plans to soften cleanup requirements, but the agency is getting stiff pushback from New York lawmakers, New York state stakeholders and environmental groups to make GE do more to clean up the site.  Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D­NY) and several House members are pressing Pruitt to incorporate data showing the current remedy is not protective of human health and the environment, and to seek more cleanup of the river. In a May 23, 2017 letter she writes “The review presents an opportunity to realize goals that you have articulated, including the importance of cleaning up the Hudson River pollution and ensuring the Superfund program succeeds in achieving both environmental outcomes and creating jobs.” Gillibrand’s letter was also signed by Reps. Paul Tonko, Nita M. Lowey, Eliot Engel and Sean Patrick Maloney, all Democrats representing New York districts. They write that after the cleanup plan was created, “EPA discovered that at least 2­3 times more PCB contamination existed in Hudson River sediments than had been assumed; yet EPA did not modify the scope of the cleanup.” Thus, the river’s contamination exceeds prior cleanup targets. As a result, a “dark cloud of toxic pollution” continues to suffocate any economic development on the Upper Hudson River.

Check back here for an update.  Once the 5 year review is published we’ll have a better idea as to how the power struggle inside EPA may play out over the life of the Trump Administration.