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As EPA prepares Hudson River report, NYS lawmakers and advocates say cleanup not complete

The Hudson River in Coxsackie
Lucas Willard
/
WAMC
The Hudson River in Coxsackie

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to release a third review of General Electric’s removal of harmful PCBs from the Hudson River. Ahead of the report, a bipartisan coalition of New York State lawmakers and environmental advocates are demanding the EPA deem the cleanup incomplete.

The EPA is preparing to release its third Five-Year Review on the Hudson River Superfund cleanup in the coming weeks. The review will focus on the upper Hudson River – a 40-mile section between Fort Edward and Troy, where General Electric was ordered to remove toxic PCBs from the waterway. Dredging was completed in 2015.

But advocates up and down the Hudson River want the agency to deem to cleanup not yet protective.

Former U.S. EPA Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez, now Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy and Science at environmental organization Scenic Hudson, was working at the EPA when it issued a Certificate of Completion for the Remedial Action for GE’s cleanup in 2019. But, at the time, the EPA also deferred a determination on the protectiveness of the remedy for human and environmental health until more data is collected.

Lopez explained why the agency did not close the books on the Hudson River at a press conference at the New York State Capitol Wednesday.

“Due to the advocacy of everyone here, more information was brought to bear – DEC and others, many of our colleagues here – brought new information to the table that forced EPA to blink. The career staff who thought they had it in the bag, thought they had it under control, realized that the remedy was not acting as it should, it was not protective. So, they paused and said, ‘The remedy is not yet protective,’” said Lopez.

Lopez is asking EPA Administrator Michael Regan and his Region 2 successor, Lisa Garcia, to follow suit.

“So, to me, it's a badge of honor. Take a break, it's not protective, pause and see what else can be done to remove PCBs,” said Lopez.

Advocates say sampling data from fish and sediment shows PCB concentrations are higher than models forecast.

Hudson Valley State Senator Pete Harckham is a Democrat who chairs the Environmental Conservation Committee.

“It’s a stain on the environmental movement, it's a stain on public health. And when they were required to clean it up, we had the expectation that they would clean it up,” said Harckham.

As part of the third five-year review, the EPA is reviewing samples taken from 2017 through 2021. Last year, the EPA began working with GE to conduct new sampling in the lower Hudson. Advocates want a full remedial investigation/feasibility study of the Hudson below the Troy dam.

State Senator Rob Rolison, a Republican who previously served as mayor of Poughkeepsie, said after decades of calls for a cleaner Hudson, not enough progress has been made.

“My dad got here in 1967 in the New York State Senate. The very first committee he was on was called Commerce and Navigation and it had the Hudson River in its jurisdiction. And for many of you who might remember what the Hudson River looked like in 1967, it doesn't look that way today because they started, for the very first time, holding corporations and municipalities responsible for dumping, just dumping into the Hudson,” said Rolison.

Democrat Pat Fahy, whose State Assembly District includes the City of Albany, said the Hudson River must be a priority, as local leaders work to reconnect New York’s capital city with its riverfront. Fahy has advocated for the teardown of elevated Interstate 787 in Albany.

“But while we reclaim access to the riverfront, we need that riverfront and we need the river clean,” said Fahy.

General Electric released a statement following the press conference that reads:

“Hailed as a ‘historic achievement’ by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, GE’s Hudson River dredging project removed the vast majority of PCBs in the upper river and led to broad declines in PCB levels. Data collected by New York State following the completion of dredging showed that more than 99% of sediment samples in the Upper Hudson were below EPA's dredging criteria.”

As it prepares its review for release, EPA says it is incorporating feedback from its Five-Year Review team, which includes agency technical experts, representatives from state and federal support agencies, and the Hudson River Superfund’s Community Advisory Group.

EPA will collect public comment on the report.

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Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.