by Karl Coplan
EPA has just announced the parameters for Phase II of the Hudson River PCB cleanup. The Hudson River is contaminated with PCBs largely due to discharges from General Electric capacitor and transformer plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls plants. General Electric voluntarily performed Phase I of the sediment cleanup — essentially a pilot and evaluation project. Now EPA has established the technical parameters for Phase II.
The critical change in the Phase II parameters is EPA’s decision to allow up to 11% of the dredged area to be capped with PCB concentrations exceeding 1 part per million (in addition to approximately 15% of the contaminated area that is physically impossible to dredge). This is less than the amount of area that GE wanted to leave as capped rather than dredged, but more than the previous standard. No more than about 30% of the dredged area to be capped (i.e., 3% of the total dredged area) may contain PCB residuals of greater than 27 parts per million.
In essence, GE got permission to leave more PCBs in the Hudson River sediments, but not as much as it wanted. The decision is also a disappointment to environmentalists, who wanted to see much smaller areas left capped rather than completely dredged — more like 5%.
The polluter pays principle requires those responsible for environmental contamination to undertake the full cost of full cleanup. By getting permission to whittle away at a full removal of its PCBs from the Hudson, General Electric is avoiding the true cost of its activities.
GE has until January 14 to decide whether or not to accept responsibility for performing Phase II of the Hudson River cleanup. If it refuses, EPA may issue a unilateral order requiring GE to perform the cleanup, or it may contract to perform the cleanup itself and bill General Electic for the cost.