Lawsuit Filed Over Hudson River Cleanup
Gov. Andrew Cuomo filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the cleanup of the Hudson River.
On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violating federal law when it issued a "Certificate of Completion" to General Electric Company for its removal of polychlorinated biphenyls from the Hudson River.
"Trump's EPA is failing New Yorkers and the environment by putting the priorities of polluters first," Cuomo said. "The Hudson River is among New York's most precious natural and economic resources, but despite years of dredging, levels of PCB contamination are still unacceptably high in the river and in fish. We have an obligation to protect the health and vitality of both the Hudson River and the communities along its banks for current and future generations. Since the EPA has failed to hold GE accountable for restoring the river, New York is taking action to demand a full and complete remediation."
The EPA issued the certificate to GE on April 11, 2019, finding that the company's required cleanup of PCBs from the river was complete, despite evidence that concentrations remain dangerously high in portions of the river, officials say.
"EPA failed our river and our communities by issuing a certificate of completion to GE for a cleanup that is falling woefully short of its targets. If left unchallenged, EPA's decision could needlessly make it much harder for the agency to get GE to finish cleaning up its mess in the Hudson River. We applaud Governor Cuomo and Attorney General James for calling out EPA's abdication of responsibility and standing up for all New Yorkers who demand a healthy Hudson," Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said.
Studies by the New York State Department of Health and the public interest groups Scenic Hudson and Sierra Club found that many people are eating fish caught from the PCB-contaminated portion of the Hudson River, according to a press release.
"We support New York's suit to force the EPA to hold General Electric to account. Since GE settled the case in 2005, they have spent less than 1.5 percent of its profits on cleaning up the mess it made in the Hudson River. Asking New Yorkers to wait another fifty years to be able to safely eat the fish is neither reasonable, nor lawful," Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Executive Director Greg Williams said.
Attorney General James found the EPA's Certificate of Completion to be unlawful because the EPA failed to ensure the cleanup would assure the protection of human health and the environment. Recent data reveals PCB concentrations in Hudson River fish remain high and have remained largely unchanged in the three years since dredging ceased, officials say.
"We will not allow the EPA to let big polluters like General Electric off the hook without a fight," James said. "The facts are clear: Hudson River fish remain much too contaminated with PCBs to safely eat, and EPA admits they don't know when - or if - they ever will be. EPA can't ignore these facts - or the law - and simply pronounce GE's cleanup of PCBs complete. That is why we filed this lawsuit to force EPA to follow the law and require GE to truly complete its PCB cleanup and finally return the full use of the Hudson River to the people of New York."
According to the Governor's Office, on the day the EPA issued the Certificate of Completion, the EPA's Five-Year Review found that the cleanup was not adequately protective of human health and the environment. The EPA concluded that the Agency does not have sufficient information to even determine if or when the cleanup would meet this standard. For this and other reasons, the lawsuit charges that the EPA's issuance of the Certificate of Completion to GE is beyond the Agency's legal authority and should be vacated.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who ran against Cuomo for Governor, supports the lawsuit and released the following statement:
Together, we have worked for more than a generation to restore the Hudson River to a safe, healthy and thriving ecosystem as it remains an invaluable cultural, environmental and economic resource for countless communities. In April, these efforts were dealt a critical blow when the EPA issued a grossly premature Certification of Completion of Remedial Action. This certificate limits the EPA’s ability to achieve a true and lasting cleanup and is a significant obstacle to holding the polluters accountable for further remediation efforts.
Dutchess County remains committed to restoring the health and vitality of the Hudson River and we stand with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Governor Cuomo, and Attorney General James in holding the EPA responsible for its erroneous determination. I fully support vacating the Certificate of Completion until the long-term ecological health of this resource is verifiably achieved.
This suit makes it clear the communities of the Hudson River Valley will not settle for anything less than a complete recovery and demands responsible parties be held accountable for their egregious treatment of our beloved river.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "Instead of fighting to protect our environment and the health of our communities, EPA is giving GE a free pass after decades of contamination. By allowing GE to walk away from the Hudson River cleanup, EPA is abandoning its mission and leaving a job unfinished. Today, New York is doing what we must to compel EPA and GE to finish the job and protect public health, our irreplaceable Hudson River environment, and the communities that depend on a clean and healthy river."
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