UPDATE - EPA to order GE to clean up toxic waste in Hudson
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said yesterday it will order General Electric Co. to dredge the Hudson to remove toxic waste it dumped into the river over several decades, a huge project that will cost several hundred million dollars.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it will stick with a Clinton administration plan requiring GE to pay for cleaning up polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that it discharged along a 40-mile (64.37-km) stretch of the river in connection with a broad range of industrial activities.
"The administration is committed to cleaning up the Hudson River in a manner that is environmentally sound and is responsive to the concerns of the affected communities," EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said in a statement.
The draft plan, delivered to New York state officials for their review, will be finalized in late September.
It calls for GE to begin dredging a stretch of the Hudson River north of Albany, New York, in a project estimated to cost at least $460 million. GE will have to pay most or all of the clean-up costs, according to an EPA spokesman.
The White House said the Hudson River dredging plan was an EPA decision. "The president of course supports the EPAs decision," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.
GE DISAPPOINTED WITH PLAN
GE, a diversified company that owns the NBC television network and makes an array of products from lightbulbs and household appliances to jet engines, said it was "disappointed" with the decision.
"GE is disappointed in the EPAs decision to undertake a massive dredging project of the Upper Hudson River, which will cause more harm than good," the company said in a statement, which also urged the EPA to make public its draft decision.
The order to dredge the stretch of the Hudson is a huge defeat for GE, which had spent tens of millions of dollars fighting the proposal. GE claimed that dredging would be more destructive, because it would stir up PCBs buried in mud and recontaminate the Hudson River.
PCBs have been found to cause cancer and can also harm the immune systems, the nervous systems, and the reproductive systems of people, fish, and other wildlife. The chemicals are especially risky for children, according to the EPA.
Two General Electric manufacturing plants discharged as much as 1.3 million pounds (590,000 kg) of the toxic waste into the river between the mid-1940s and 1977.
PCBs are mixtures of synthetic organic chemicals that were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications including electrical, heat transfer, and hydraulic equipment, and paints.
The question of dredging the Hudson had become a test for the Bush administration, which has been pilloried in recent months by environmental groups for its policies on energy and the international efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions.
The clean-up plan will include testing of PCB levels in the soil, water and fish and measuring how much of the dredged waste recontaminates the river, Whitman said. Based on those periodic tests, the agency will decide whether it is "scientifically justified" to continue the clean-up, she said.
The EPA action came in the form of a draft order, which the agency sent to New York Gov. George Pataki, who favors the original dredging plan, and others.
RESIDENTS OPPOSE CLEAN-UP
Rep. John Sweeney, a New York Republican, said he would fight the dredging plan because it would be noisy, disruptive and potentially dangerous to local residents.
The clean-up plan will require removing some 100,000 dump truck loads of sludge from the bottom of the Hudson River, Sweeney said. After dredging, the contaminated sediment will be treated locally and then loaded onto rail cars for disposal.
"We sought to bring the parties together so we could find an amicable and immediate solution. This decision will wreak havoc" on local residents, Sweeney said. "Shame on the EPA."
Local residents also said they would fight the plan.
"I am very disappointed, but we are going to continue to go on with the fight," said Tim Havens of CEASE, the Citizen Environmentalists Against Sludge Encapsulation. "They are never going to dredge this river. We, the people of the upper Hudson River, will not let it be dredged."
He and other opponents suggested they might consider lawsuits to block the project.
The agency received more than 70,000 letters, faxes and e-mails from the public on the dredging plan, many from residents of the area.
"The plan is expected to ensure the proposal for cleaning up the river will not put individuals at greater risk of PCB exposure," the EPA said in a statement. The agency will create a community outreach program to gather "early and meaningful input" as the dredging project is designed.
Environmental groups praised the EPA decision.
"The decision to proceed with EPAs proposed dredging plan is a triumph of public health over public relations," said Francis Beinecke, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It tells GE that polluters must pay and signals Superfund polluters everywhere that this EPA will not let them off the hook."
Story by Julie Vorman
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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