Dear Commons Community,
The New York Times has an editorial today pleading with NY Governor Andrew Cuomo to take a stand in the on-going battle with G.E. to clean up the Hudson River. The essence of the issue is that G.E. has spent the last six years and $1 billion dredging up much but not all of the toxic chemicals it put in the riverbed, and it is now getting ready to dismantle its cleanup operation. Environmental advocates and scientists are making urgent pleas to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and to New York State to make sure G.E. does not leave before the river job is finished. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who should be leading this battle, is a nonparticipant. He has bowed out, kept his Department of Environmental Conservation on the sidelines, and tossed the ball to the feds. As stated in the New York Times editorial:
“G.E. says, rightly, that it has fulfilled the terms of the settlement it agreed to with the federal government — a job it spent years trying to evade — and that the river is better off now that 300,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, have been removed. But it is refusing to spend a day or a penny more than it has to, and alarms are going off. Two of the three government agencies tasked with guarding the health of the Hudson as the river’s “natural resource trustees” — the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — wrote the Environmental Protection Agency in late September urging that the dismantling be postponed until the E.P.A. conducts a review.
The river and fish are still contaminated, the federal trustees said, echoing the concerns of advocates dismayed that the cleanup won’t reach 136 contaminated acres that lie outside the area covered by the dredging agreement. This includes a silted-up stretch of the Champlain Canal, beside the Hudson, that is unusable for deep-water commercial shipping but cannot be safely dredged until the PCBs are removed.
Oddly, and conspicuously, the third trustee, New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, did not sign the letter.
The department answers to Mr. Cuomo, who has absented himself from the clamor against G.E.’s departure. Mr. Cuomo has other priorities — he is trying to persuade G.E. to move its headquarters back to New York. He evidently would rather disappoint New Yorkers who love the river than jeopardize a corporate courtship.
E.P.A. officials say that their options are limited — that the agency can’t reopen the original agreement with G.E., and that the trustees’ letter is not the right tool to compel G.E. to stick around and finish the job. But limited legal recourse does not preclude old-fashioned pressure and moral argument. If New York and Mr. Cuomo went after G.E. over the crippled Champlain Canal — an economic burden on taxpayers and citizens — it could get results.”
G.E. polluted the Hudson River for decades and it has grudgingly taken responsibility for the clean-up. It should make sure the job is completed. Unfortunately, during his second term in office, Governor Cuomo’s has consistently sided with corporate interests over those of the people of New York.