Cuomo, Schneiderman threaten lawsuit if the EPA declares Hudson River cleanup complete

Photo courtesy of General Electric

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he and the state’s attorney general are prepared to sue the federal government if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declares that the cleanup of the Hudson River complete, as they are expected to do this month.

In an announcement Thursday afternoon, Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman say they will sue the federal government to ensure dredging continues until all the river sediment that is laden with polychlorinated biphenyls is removed.

From the 1940s through the 1970s, General Electric manufacturing facilities in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward legally dumped more than one million pounds of hazardous PCBs directly into the river.

Cuomo said the contamination has impacted the health and livelihood of communities along the Hudson River ever since, including the decimation of a once-thriving $40 million commercial fishery.

General Electric has been dredging parts of the river since 2009 and has removed 300,000 pounds of PCBs so far.

However, Cuomo said New York is prepared to withdraw from the 2002 agreement between GE, New York and the EPA which guided the cleanup and removal of millions of tons of PCB-contaminated sediment from the Upper Hudson River.

The EPA’s decision is expected to be announced later this month, and Gov. Cuomo said Thursday that indications are they will deem the cleanup complete even though testing by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation shows otherwise, especially in terms of PCB levels still present in fish and wildlife.

“The Hudson River is a critical economic engine and environmental treasure and New York will not allow PCB contamination to continue wreaking havoc on this vital resource,” Cuomo said. “The data is clear: the job is not done and the EPA cannot declare that this remediation is complete. If they do, New York will take any action necessary to hold them accountable for ensuring our waterways are protected and properly restored.”

With this proposal — his second major 2018 policy initiative announced this week — and in cooperation with the state Attorney General, New York will file a lawsuit if the EPA, despite data to the contrary, finds that the Hudson River cleanup of PCBs is complete.

General Electric filed a request for a Certificate of Completion on December 23, 2016, and EPA has 365 days to respond to the request pursuant to the Consent decree between GE and the EPA.

“The Hudson is one of New York’s crown jewels, vital to our environment, our economy, and our communities,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “If the EPA declares mission accomplished, we will sue to ensure New York sees the full, timely cleanup and restoration of the Hudson River that was promised.”

If a Certificate of Completion is issued by the EPA this month, Governor Cuomo is directing the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to withdraw its concurrence with EPA’s 2002 “Record of Decision,” which was signed under a previous administration.

The ROD guided the cleanup effort and removal of of PCB-contaminated sediment from a portion of the Upper Hudson River; specifically, it expected PCB levels in fish would rapidly decline.

Unfortunately, EPA’s 2002 decision relied on flawed modeling rather than actual sampling data, and their current draft five-year review of the dredging effectiveness, together with fish contamination data and recent DEC sediment sampling, indicates these objectives will not be met.

The state’s DEC recently sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt outlining these concerns and reiterating that a Certificate of Completion should not be issued for this project.

Cuomo says he has urged the EPA to conduct a complete and thorough review of the situation.

In 2016, the Department of Environmental Conservation demanded that the EPA take additional samples of river sediments in order to determine the effectiveness of the dredging. When the EPA refused, DEC led the effort by taking more than 1,200 samples this past summer.

“The EPA’s own analysis indicates that fish species will not reach the levels envisioned in the cleanup plan for more than fifty years absent additional action,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “That is simply too long and not consistent with the estimates in the ROD. The EPA must evaluate the removal of additional contamination and must not issue a certificate of completion at this time.”