© 2022
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Housatonic River Initiative To Appeal EPA Cleanup Plan In Court

A man and a boy hold signs in a meeting room
Josh Landes
Housatonic River Initiative protesters Sage Radachowsky and Malcolm Whittaker at the EPA announcement of the new cleanup plan in February.

A Berkshire County environmentalist group says it plans to appeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to remediate the polluted Housatonic River.

This week, the EPA signed off on a controversial plan to remove polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs dumped into the waterway by General Electric from a Pittsfield, Massachusetts plant in the mid-20th century. Tim Gray of the Housatonic River Initiative has vocally opposed the proposal – brokered between GE and communities along the river by the EPA – since it was announced in February.

“We are going to be launching an appeal against the EPA to challenge the permit on the basis that one, we don’t want their dump, and there’s better ways to deal with the PCBs,” he told WAMC.

The plan calls for a landfill for low-level toxic materials in Lee, which has been a focus of local protest. While the agency has defended what it calls the upland disposal facility as safe, it has acknowledged that there is the potential for air exposure to the toxic chemicals while moving materials from the river to the site. Gray has promoted the idea of chemically treating the river to remove the PCBs as opposed to the dredging the EPA permit calls for.

“The other problem is they’re leaving enormous amounts of PCBs in the river," said Gray. "The EPA doesn’t even know how much PCB is in this river. They’re making a guess from modelling. And if you remember what’s going on in the Hudson River right now, it’s exactly what’s going to happen on the Housatonic because they’re not taking enough PCBs out of the river, and that they will end up leaving huge amounts. And that’s exactly what happened in the Hudson, and now what’s happening after the cleanup? Lawsuits everywhere.”

The appeals period for the permit begins on January 4th, and Gray says it offers the HRI a rare opportunity.

“This will be the first time that we’ll have a chance to actually argue some of this in front of an independent judge instead of EPA people,” he said.

To date, critics of the plan have channeled their frustrations into public comment periods – tense, in-person meetings before the COVID-19 pandemic and then virtual forums this fall.

“The lawyers that are working for us, they’re already writing briefs and they will represent us in court to the best of their ability," said Gray. "And like I say, they’re pretty dynamite lawyers, so we’re happy to have them and they will allow us at least to challenge some of this foolish stuff that EPA wants to do in our county.”

Andrew Rainer of Boston’s Brody Hardoon Perkins & Kesten will represent the HRI in court. The firm’s website lists the former Assistant Attorney General, Assistant District Attorney, and Counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee’s specialties as representing whistleblowers as well as property owners and municipalities in environmental and public health litigation. Rainer has previously represented Pittsfield property owners whose lands were contaminated by PCBs. He will be joined by Katy Garrison of Murphy & Riley and Stephanie Parker of O’Connor Carnathan & Mack.

“We intend to move ahead with this because if this plan moves ahead, the river will stay contaminated forever,” said Gray.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
Related Content